8 May 2010

Virtual Worlds and Subjective Experience

Posted by jofr

Above you can see the dining room of Christ Church, Oxford. Christ Church was founded in 1546, it is one of the largest and oldest colleges in the University of Oxford. Like many other Oxford locations, the dining hall appears in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter films, in the Harry Potter world it is the Hogwarts dining hall, where for example the sorting ceremony takes place. Oxford is the place where J.R. Tolkien worked at various colleges, too. As a professor of English literature, he was mainly interested in all kind of languages, and he liked to invent his own ones. During his career, he was at various colleges in Oxford, including Exeter College, Pembroke College and Merton College.

J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien created both new worlds. Both loved writing, and believed in their visions and passions. Both had in common that they had not the goal of becoming famous. They just wanted to tell a wonderful story. Rowling created the imaginary Harry Potter fantasy world, Tolkien created the fictional world of Middle-earth which is described in his monumental LoTR work “Lord of the Rings”. Tolkien can be considered as the inventor of the fantasy genre in general. He invented his world to create a world where his fictional languages for elves, dwarves and orks would fit in. Rowling invented a fictional pseudo language similar to Latin for her wizards and witches, too. Today, there are many more fantasy worlds that are not Potter or LoTR. George Lucas invented the Star Wars universe, Gene Roddenberry the imaginary Star trek world. There are also more and more virtual worlds, MOGs, and MMORPGs. The biggest MMORPGs are EVE Online and WoW. Star Trek is available as a massively multiplayer online game, too, it is named Star Trek Online. Star Wars is available as a MMORPG named Star Wars Galaxies. There are many fantasy action MMORPGs, for instance Aion, Final Fantasy, or TERA Online, and classic MMORPGS like Heroes of Might and Magic Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online.

It all began with Tolkien. His fantastic work is a true masterpiece. Most of us will not create such masterpieces, but we all have the opportunity to create ordinary children, as Lee Ann Womack describes in her song “Something Worth Leaving Behind”:

I’ll probably never hold a brush
that paints a masterpiece
Probably never find a pen
that writes a symphony
But if I will love then I will find
That I have touched another life
And that’s something
Something worth leaving behind

Perhaps we all have the drive to create something worth leaving behind. Something which reminds future generations that we have been here. Creative activities like writing, painting, and composing are indeed very personal, they transform subjective experience in objective reality. They turn the inside out literally, i.e. they take the inside to the outside. While Psychologists and Philosophers wonder endlessly if inner experience can ever be accurately described, because it is always subjective and private, and introspection is unreliable, unverifiable and controversial, countless composers, artists, and authors (like the Russian authors Tolstoi, Dostoevsky and Chekhov) and have done for centuries just this: they have described their inner experience with skillful notes, brush strokes, or words, and transfered their inner experience into an elaborate desription of an imaginary sequence of events.

The creative person combines and links the various personal impressions, memories and experiences into a consistent whole, which is sometimes a detailed reproduction of the past, and sometimes something completely new. Anton Chekhov for example combined his experience he made as a doctor with his impressions of the Russian landscape (especially the Volga) and his knowledge of the contemporary Russian society. Like nearly all authors, he wrote about himself, and his short stories are condensed descriptions of his personal experiences. Tolkien combined his deep knowledge of nordic mythology and ancient languages with his personal experiences in the first world war. Tolkien and Rowling both went beyond a mere description of personal experience, they managed to invent a whole new imaginary world. This creative activity is the opposite of normal perception, which transforms objective reality in subjective experience.

  • Author, Artist, Composer: subjective experience is turned into objective reality.
    Description and combination of subjective experience leads to the creation and construction of stories, works of art, and virtual worlds
  • Consumer: objective reality is turned into subjective experience.
    Continued selected perception of the real world in it’s various forms and flavors leads to subjective experience

In this sense, personal creativity and subjective experience are two sides of the same coin. Both are very personal and subjective processes. Subjective experience, especially the subjective quality of conscious experience, is a popular problem in the Philosophy of mind. It depends on the personal emotions. It is the personal experience of an individual person, which is different for everybody because people live in different worlds (in the words of Nicholas Thompson in different “slices” of the same world).

“The peculiarity of our experiences, that they not only are, but are known, which their ‘conscious’ quality is invoked to explain, is better explained by their relations – these relations themselves being experiences – to one another.” – William James

Subjective experience seems to depend on individual memories: each perception is linked to similar perceptions one has experienced before. Since every person has a slightly different history resulting in different memories and experiences, each person has a unique, individual subjective experience, dependent on his individual slice of the world.

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2 Responses to “Virtual Worlds and Subjective Experience”

  1. […] perception. Perception turns objective reality into subjective experience, while creativity turns subjective experience into objective reality. Description and combination of subjective experience leads to the creation and construction of […]

  2. […] private and the public is often associated with a creative process. Experience and creativity are two sides of a coin: perception turns objective reality into path-dependent subjective experience, while creativity […]


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