Get Real:

A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality

a book by
Philip Zhai

"Get Real has the potential to become a landmark in both philosophy and virtual reality. The clearly written text progresses systematically through one hard issue after another. Whether or not one agrees with all of the conclusions, this is a book to be studied and then restudied." -- Dr. Lawrence Auld

Steer your passion out of the little nest
Inhale the whole space into your chest
Stage your final ontological protest
Let the eternal light unfold all the rest

"New Genesis," Z. Zhai, 1997

"We can never re-create the human mind through AI, but we can re-create the whole empirical world through VR," the author makes such a radical yet convincingly justified claim.

Is Virtual Reality merely a video game that totally consumes and distracts the player immersed in its simulations? Or is VR an immaterial world rich with meaning that beckons humanity to migrate into a better future world held inside computers? Philip Zhai tackles this contemporary question with keen logical analysis and concludes by advocating a standpoint that transcends these two opposing views of Virtual Reality.

According to Zhai, the combination of the three technologies -- digital simulation, sensory immersion, and functional teleoperation-- in a well-coordinated manner amounts to a Re- Creation of the whole empirically perceived universe. This is not a mere metaphor of Trinity. Virtual Reality could literally replace the actual reality if we choose to live in this newly-created world. Zhai in this book provides an ontological proof based on astounding yet carefully crafted thought experiments and cogent philosophical reasoning. He leads us to realize that: 1) whatever reasons we have for justifying the materiality of the actual world will have the equal validity for justifying the materiality of the virtual world once we are immersed in it; 2) whatever reasons we have for calling perceived objects in the virtual world illusory are equally applicable for calling those in the actual world illusory; 3) whatever functions we need to perform in the actual world for our survival and prosperity, including production and procreation, can also be performed in the virtual world. The danger lies, however, in the possibility of a total reality blackout when the Reality Engine breaks down, which is comparable to a natural disaster on the cosmic level in the actual world.

Zhai also provides a rigorous analysis of why strong AI as proposed by Daniel Dennett and other believers is impossible and why John Searle's criticism is off the mark and also fallacious. He shows how the parallelism between the virtual and the actual world must hinge upon the unity of the human mind as the center of perception, which is the pre-condition for the spatial locality of the empirical world.

Later chapters deal with the normative issue of the desirability of Virtual Reality. The discussion is based on the author's highly original concept of Humanitude developed in his previously published book. He draws on various classical philosophers and also argues with contemporary thinkers through masterful logical analyses and lively phenomenological descriptions. According to him, the only important difference between the actual and the virtual world is that we are co-creators of the latter: Gods 'R Us.

As Michael Heim -- internationally known as "the philosopher of cyberspace" -- says, "Zhai's book is a must-read for anyone interested in the implications of simulation and immersion technology." The thought experiments presented here are as mind- boggling and entertaining as any plots in a science fiction story, yet they are able to put you into alternating states of excitement and enlightenment. If you are a seasoned philosopher, chapters on VR's implications for philosophy of mind and other metaphysical issues will very likely challenge you to re-examine the starting point of philosophical reasoning; if you are a beginner, this book will lead you from the ground up to the frontier of the philosophical enterprise. If you work in a technical field of VR or information industry at large, this book will help you form a clear vision about the future possibilities of electronic revolution. In general, anybody with a decent educational background will benefit a great deal from reading this eye-opening and groundbreaking book.

Philip Zhai holds a Bachelor's degree in engineering and a Ph.D. in philosophy. He is the author of the book, The Radical Choice and Moral Theory, and numerous articles. He also plays musical instruments and composes music. He has taught philosophy at Univ. of Kentucky, Muhlenberg College, Millsaps College, Moravian College. He has also been invited to deliver lectures around the world on various occasions. He is now spending most of his time on designing and writing software programs, while continuing to write philosophy books. You can reach him by e-mail at or see his picture by clicking here.

Webpages on this book:

* a review of this book by Dr. Lawrence Auld
* speech
* an explorer
* news
* French connection

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Table of Contents



Chapter 1.  How to Go "behind" Physical Space

	1. Playing the Game: Get Wired to Go Weird

		Shootout in Cyberspace
		Immersed in the Game and Never to Return? 

	2. What If Now ...

		Imagination Gone Wild Yet Intellect Disciplined
		Totally Lost in Disney's Space Odyssey
		Reality Unreal or What?
		See the Sound and Hear the Color
		Summary: Equally Ignorant 

	3. Cross-Communication Situations

		Mis-Located Bodies
		Adam and Bob Messed Up
		A Fundamental Ambiguity
		What Is the Catch?
		Teleportation with a Helmet
		A Smart Brain That Knows Not

	4. Interpersonal-Telepresence: I Am Here!

		Brain Switch without Surgery
		Self-Identity versus Other-Identity
		John Locke Is Locked Out
		Summary: A Person Is Nowhere

	5. The Community of Interpersonal-Telepresence

		Go Places at Will
		The Body Goes Public
		The Survivor of a Fatal Accident
		Again I Am Nowhere
		What Is Colored but Shapeless?
		You Are Now behind the Space!
		Summary: Personal Identity without Space

	6. The Principle of Reciprocity

		From the One Seeing Many  	
		Where Is Virtual Reality?
		Jaron Calls It an Illusion
		Natural versus Artificial
		Don't Worry But Watch Out

Chapter 2.  The Causal and the Digital under the Virtual

	1. The Four Sources of Virtual Reality Input

		Get Immersed
		Input in the Opposite Direction
	2. Manipulation of the Physical Process from Cyberspace     
	        Survive and Prosper in Cyberspace
		You Are an Agent
		Efficiency Matters and...
	3. Cybersex and Reproduction

		The Explosive Paul and the Implosive Mary
		Copulating and Procreating
		The Erotic Ontology
                A Dangerous Idea

	4. The Expansion beyond Necessity        

		Get Rich by Doing the Impossible
		Simulations Don't Count
		Optional Local Continuity and David Hume
		A Hypothesis to Be Tested by Psychologists 	
		Space Further Re-Configured
		The Economy of Inside-Out Control  
		Gods 'R Us 

	5. Interaction among Participants

		Jump and Get Real
		Let Your Partner Paint Your Body Or Whatever
		Back to CCS
	6. The Final Decision That Is Irreversible: Alert!

		VR for Today
		Build a VR Museum Right Now Please
		But Should We Do It?  

Chapter 3.  The Parallelism between the Virtual and the Actual

	1. Deconstructing Rules for the "Real" and the "Illusory"

		Cookies Are Served	
		The Gunman Wants My Rolex
		Robots Are Taking Over!
		Summary: Seven T-Rules Gone in Order
		Rotating the Fork 

	2. Communicative Rationality as the Final Rule

		Bishop Berkeley Says Thusly
		The Final Rule: Relativism Prevented
		Foundational Part of VR No Less Real
		But Is the Gunman Real?
	3. How Phenomenological Descriptions Are the Same Throughout

		Two Evaporating "Hard Facts"
		Optional Reality Is Fake
		The Myth of Singularity
		Summary: Three Principles of Reflexivity
	4. Fundamental Philosophical Questions Remain

		Lao Tzu Debating Berkeley
		The Quarrelsome Rationalists
		A New Turn of the Mind
		No Expiration Date
		New Creation Story? 

Chapter 4.  All Are Optional Except the Mind

	1. John Searle's False Notion of Body Image in the Brain

		Temporality Inherent in the Mind
		The Amputee and John Searle's Confusion
		The Whole Universe in My Brain?
		The Credit Searle Deserves
		But More Disastrous...
		A Pain with an Index
		A Real Pain Which Is Nowhere
		Daniel Dennett Wrong in the Same Way
		The Cart and the Horse 
                Zhai or Dennett	
        	Summary: Back to the First-Person

	2. The Fallacy of Unity Projection

		No Dualism
		Quantum Mechanics 
		Don't Be Self-Defeating
		Hofstdater and Tipler Also Guilty
		Brain Discredited
		Why Mind Is Not a Computer
		Is a Stone Also Conscious?
		Hello Mr. Stapp
		Einstein's Brain
	3. The One-ness of Consciousness, Brain, and Quantum Mechanics                

		Emperor Penrose's Mind
		Dare to Dream
		Back to the Future?
		The Split Self
		Why Care about Your Future Pain?
	4. A Conjecture: The Square Root of -1 as the Psy-Factor

		Theoretical Physicists Are Invited
                Verifying Claims Made by Mystics

Chapter 5.  The Meaning of Life and Virtual Reality

	1. Recapitulation and Anticipation

		Virtually Do It All
		Really Illusory
		Ontology of the Mind
	2. Meaning as Different from Happiness

		The Right to Be Unhappy
		Optimism from the Frontier
		The Lawnmower Man
		Zombie or Pure Spirit?

	3. Meaning and the Creator

		Is God's Life Meaningless?
		Gods 'R Us again
		Creatures and Dirt 
		To Believe or Not to Believe
	4. Significant Difference vs. Real Difference

		Fake Mona Lisa etc.
		Another Sense of the Real
		Real but Irrelevant
		The Meaningful as the Central Concern
		An Unsuccessful Rich Man  
		He Is Happy But He Has Failed
		A Homeless Millionaire
		In What Way Am I Morally Responsible?
		Try More by Yourself
		Meaning of Life Right Under Your Eyelashes
	5. Three Modes of Subjectivity and Intentionality

		Subjective but Fair
		Logical Positivism and Its Discontent
		Be Proud of Subjectivity
		Does a Hole Exist?
		The Trinity of Subjectivity
		The Conative Mode
		The Communicative Mode
		Schlick's Concern
		The Constitutive Mode
		Back to Virtual Reality
		Intentionality not Cultural Relativity
		The Meaning of "Meaning"
	6. Meaning, Ideality, and Humanitude

		Humanitude versus Human Nature
		How Can We Understand Each Other? 
		Leave Human Nature and Go Home
		Materiality Discredited Again
	7. Virtual Reality: The Way Home

		Ethics of Intentional Reality
		The Merge of the Experiential and the Meaningful
		The Good and the Virtual
		Should We Erase the Boundary?

Chapter 6.  VR and the Destiny of Humankind

	1. The Fragility of Technological Civilization

		The "Dark Side" of Cyberspace
		Don't Abandon this World!
		No Hero in the Wife's Eye
		Nothing Is Thick
		Biologically Mortal

	2. The Question of Death

		Meaningfully Immortal
		Death Never Experienced   
	3. Transcendence of Personhood and Immortality 

		Little Anthony's Dying Wish
		The Little Boy's Immortal Personhood
		My Grand-Grandchildren and Beth's Step Father
		Pleasing yet Worthless Life
		Human Soul Refurbished
		Humanitude Re-Visited
	4. What Could Happen Soon

		No Hype
		Take a Virtual Shower	
		Shopping on the Web
		VR Conferencing
		Making Love while Continents Apart
		Walk through...
		Educational VR and Virtual Art
	5. Virtual Reality and the Ontological Re-Creation

		Let's Swim in the Sea of Meaning
		The Media That Shape Our Being
		The Metaphysical Maturity of Civilization

     Note: "Humanitude" is a concept This author developed in his book 
            previously published, The Radical Choice and Moral Theory,
            Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994.

Appendix:  Jaron Lanier's Virtual Realty Interview




See the section on Cybersex and Human Reproduction

Read his poems in Chinese here!

Order his book Get Real here now

Order this amazing book by Michael Heim,
The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality,
from Amazon bookstore online!

In Association with,
other books recommended for you to buy:

Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality
Philip Zhai
Artificial Life and Virtual Reality
Nadia Magnenat Thalmam, Daniel Thalmam
Computers of the Future : Intelligent Machines and Virtual Reality (Beyond 2000)
David J. Darling
Cybercities : Visual Perception in the Age of Electronic Communication
M. Christine Boyer
Garage Virtual Reality
Linda Jacobson
How Virtual Reality Works (How It Works)
Joshua Eddings
Possible Worlds : The Social Dynamic of Virtual Reality Technology
Ralph Schroeder
Step into Virtual Reality/Book and Disk
John Iovine
Virtual Realities and Their Discontents
Robert Markley (Editor)
The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age
Allucquere Rosanne Stone
War of the Worlds : Cyberspace and the High-Tech Assault on Reality
Mark Slouka
Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality (Communication)
Frank Biocca, Levy Mark R. (Editor)


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