Simulation and Mirrors

Josh Conterio

Real, hyperreal. Simulation, simulacrum. Mirrors, duplications, reflections/refractions –a warped sense of time and space, of history, of culture and society. We have been mapped onto a cryptic surface, were nothing is substantial, all is a mind’s eye dreamland, mass conspiracy, self-defining truth. We have been notified of the construction, the idealization of truth --life is a hoax. What once imitated us, we imitate now; imitations on imitations, resulting in fantasy, hallucination. Baudrillard’s apocalyptic perspective seems extreme, demeaning and bleak, but one can to see a certain facet of truth in his texts, regardless of the pain involved. His vision can be used to our advantage if only we can get past his difficult terminology and dig up the crux of the text. We can utilize this abstract confusion to better navigate Gibsonian space if nothing else, hopefully without having to resort to too many assumptions or vague jumps in logic. In such a way might we be able to tie Baudrillard to some sort of comprhensible example, and so grasp at least a vague understanding, and maybe even uncover or explain some of Gibson’s own twisted present/future.

Two vital terms stand in our way, simulacra and simulation. I have come to understand them as meaning the following: simulations are reflections of the real, while simulacrum are based not on fact but on fantasy –no basis in reality. What then can we call the real? It is a good question, without an easy answer. And the hyperreal? An augmented real, an idealized simulation, a fuzzy area between simulacra and simulation, the midpoint perhaps. But what does one have to do to track down this mysterious real that is escaping us? My impression is that Baudrillard thinks we have lost hold of it. And so we must evolve (devolve?) to a state of pure simulacra.

There is still a great deal of confusion in my mind as to how the four terms, stated at the very top, hold to a straight definition. They appear quite mutable, which does not help one’s understanding. This much, however, can be said: the real is no longer real, or rather, what we might consider real is really a mirror, a societal perception of what might be. We have built up a false surface, a layer through which everything is viewed. Baudrillard states this:

Duplication suffices to render both [the real and the copy] artificial. [p.9]

What we deem to be historical (the original real) is copied, which in turn negates both the object/idea being copied and that copy itself. The entire world has become superficial through this simple maneuver. A creation comes into being through this negation, through this cycle; the result is that the truth (so-called) is only true because we say it is (see the quote on page 1 from Ecclesiastes). So we have an ecology, starting with the real, then simulated real. The hyperreal is perhaps a further exaggerated simulation, an edit, an improvement over the original (though still simulating that original). Baudrillard’s example is cinema. It has copied itself profusely, evolving on and on to a stage where not only is it simulating the original mood/technique, but it is improving on it. And it is the media, referred to as a genetic code, which mutates the real into the hyperreal [p.30]

Such is the watershed of a hyperreal society, in which the real is confused with the model. [p.29]

In such a society events are merely simulated, for it is the media which determines reality. A mad conspiracy theory perhaps, but we increasingly find it to be true. Baudrillard mentions terrorism: is it not true that the media is the one power calling the shots? As an example, I remember an incident a few years ago in South America, where a number of Japanese nationals were taken hostage. The media was allowed in, and by virtue of their supposed neutrality reporters have come to define reality. How then is any of society left uncorrupted? History, cinema, literature, society itself is this hyperreal simulation, for it is an augmentation of the past (the truly original is very hard to find). Media plagiarizes itself (p.47). Science too is demonized by Baudrillard, but for slightly different reasons (science is murderous –murder by simulation).

Thus everywhere the hyperrealism of simulation is translated by the hallucinatory resemblance of the real itself. [p.23]

What we must truly fear is the day when the level of simulation has gone so far off the scales as to be purely fantasy based –simulacrum. In such a scenario all of humanity would suffer from a vast delusion (Baudrillard likes to use hallucination). Is this a loss of humanity, or even something more?

Gibson tries to answer such questions of identity in a simulated world. This world places simulation, the hyperreal, in great regards. Simstim is a perfect example: it simulates life. Not real life exactly, but more perfected, with all the unpleasantness edited out. It is thus a simulation, though enhanced so as to bring it into the realm of the hyperreal. Now take Bobby’s mother in Count Zero. Not only is the simulation a dream, but her life outside of the stim has become insubstantial as well. This is Baudrillard’s prediction: mirrors make the real false. Gibson also likes to talk about mass hallucinations: he calls it cyberspace –a vast simulation. AIs and constructs help to bring this apprehension across. As Baudrillard puts it, artificial memories efface the memory of man. [p.49] Again we are faced with the philosophical question of defining life, defining God, defining the past and future. Baudrillard reduces God to a sign, Gibson to bytes. Science may be killing humankind; both authors seem to think so. Reactionary as this sounds, one cannot deny a certain accuracy in their texts. The Information Age is a dangerous time.

Information…[is] a form of catastrophe…: a radical qualitative change of a whole system. [p.53]

[To other discussions of Baudrillard by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

Theory Cyberspace OV Website Overview