What is the status of a cat in a virtual reality environment? Is it a real object? Or part of a fiction? Virtual realism, as defended by D. J. Chalmers, takes it to be a virtual object that really exists, that has properties and is involved in real events. His preferred specification of virtual realism identifies the cat with a digital object. The project of this paper is to use a comparison between virtual reality environments and scientific computer simulations to critically engage with Chalmers’s position. I first argue that, if it is sound, his virtual realism should also be applied to objects that figure in scientific computer simulations, e.g. to simulated galaxies. This leads to a slippery slope because it implies an unreasonable proliferation of digital objects. A philosophical analysis of scientific computer simulations suggests an alternative picture: The cat and the galaxies are parts of fictional models for which the computer provides model descriptions. This result motivates a deeper analysis of the way in which Chalmers builds up his realism. I argue that he buys realism too cheap. For instance, he does not really specify what virtual objects are supposed to be. As a result, rhetoric aside, his virtual realism isn’t far from a sort of fictionalism.
If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.
Barberousse, A.; Franceschelli, S.; and Imbert, C. 2009. Computer simulations as experiments. Synthese 169: 557–74.
Beisbart, C. 2018. Are computer simulations experiments? And if not, how are they related to each other? European Journal for Philosophy of Science 8: 171–204.
Beisbart, C. 2014. Are we Sims? How computer simulations represent and what this means for the simulation argument. Special issue edited by P. Humphreys of The Monist 97(3): 399–417.
Bertschinger, E. 1998. Simulations of structure formation in the universe. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 36: 599–654.
Bissey, F. et al. 2007. Gluon flux-tube distribution and linear confinement in baryons. Physical Review D 76: 114512.
Brass, P. 2008. Advanced Data Structures. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Chalmers., D. J. 2003. The Matrix as metaphysics. Philosophy section of the official Matrix website, also in Philosophers Explore the Matrix, ed. by C. Grau. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 132–76. 2 more reprints.