The Philosophical Implications of the Metaverse
January 29, 2022
The metaverse, which some say is just the next evolution of the internet, is a massive, fully interactive, synthetic world in which anything is possible. It is a world that you can project yourself into and interact with other people who have also projected themselves into it. The level of reality is dependent on the way the interface works. Right now people use 3D goggles and hand controllers, but the world of virtual reality is advancing rapidly every day. The metaverse is detrimental to society because it will cause people to value the virtual, more perfect, reality more than real life which will lead to people not being able to function in the real world. The creators and endorsers of this business are essentially selling it on the foundation of building stronger connections to other people, achieving perfection, and finding beauty ideals that don't exist in the non-virtual world. Ironically, these are all aspects of life that virtual reality is taking from us. The negative effects far outweigh the positives, and it’s important to discuss the impact that it will have on our society.
Mark Zuckerburg, the creator of Meta (formerly known as Facebook), is promoting connection, and has been since the beginnings of social media. In 2012 he talked about his philosophical commitment to the social value of certain social media services (Facebook), saying, “At Facebook, we build tools to help people connect with the people they want and share what they want, and by doing this we are extending people’s capacity to build and maintain relationships. People sharing more creates a more open culture and leads to a better understanding of the lives and perspectives of others. We believe that this creates a greater number of stronger relationships between people, and that it helps people get exposed to a greater number of diverse perspectives...We also believe that giving people control over what they share is a fundamental principle of this rewiring” (Facebook, Inc., 2012) History has shown since that statement that what facebook is actually doing is taking control away from individuals rather than increasing it.
One youtube video from Meta with over a million views states that “Meta is helping build a future where people have more ways to play and connect in the metaverse. Welcome to the next chapter of social connection.” The headline of another promotional youtube video is ‘The Metaverse and How We'll Build It Together -- Connect 2021’. The irony of this marketing technique is terrifyingly brilliant. These tech advancements are threatening authentic human connection and relationships, but are playing up the facade that they are doing the exact opposite. Zuckerberg also said: “Imagine you put on your glasses or headset and you’re instantly in your homespace. It has parts of your physical home recreated virtually, it has things that are only possible virtually. And it has an incredibly inspiring view of whatever you find most beautiful.” He clearly states this as a reason why the metaverse is such a wonderful technological advancement, but it is deeply problematic. Social media already poses a host of problems by promoting fake realities and glorifying unrealistic expectations of beauty, and the metaverse takes this to the next level. Instead of just viewing ideal, unattainable realities on our phones, now people can actually live in their idealized worlds (but only temporarily). Meta is promoting the idea that the real world isn't beautiful enough, and we have to escape into a virtual reality to find true happiness and fulfillment.
Meta, and many other companies, are creating technology so advanced that people will be able to do the unimaginable such as teleport from one virtual location to another. As a result of developments like this, many people believe that when it comes to virtual reality, the sky's the limit. But what are the dangers of a limitless, virtual world? How about the fact that none of this is real? It seems real, but it is impossible to grasp, and it’s not physical. It’s impossible to stay in this universe, because it is essentially an illusion. Just think about the impacts this would have on our world. People would lose sight of reality, more than they already are. They would be torn between their ideal, ‘beautiful’, perfect world, and the physical world that they inhabit. They would be depressed and turned off by the real world and hate being here. It would increase all of the problems we already have. Peter West discusses this in a recent article, saying, “Facebook’s latest project, the metaverse, promises a future of virtual realities and experiences beyond the constraints of the physical world. But a thought experiment by Robert Nozick provides a cautionary tale for why we should be wary of stepping into simulated realities. Living a virtual life, no matter how full of novel experiences, success, and pleasure, is not as fulfilling as it might sound...The metaverse might be the ultimate distraction machine... from what we most care about.” (Peter West, 2021) Through a few examples of different schools of philosophy I will show why the Metaverse, and the ideas that Zuckerberg has put forth, are harmful.
Daoism is a philosophy that focuses on following the natural way, the Dao. Daoism teaches that humans and human life are miniscule when we look at the process of nature as a whole. Daoism believes that the only actions we can take that make sense are the ones that follow the flow of nature. One essential belief of Daoism is Wu-Wui, which means non-action. It doesn’t mean simply not doing anything, but rather only taking actions that are natural and follow the Dao. Along with this comes the belief that having unnecessary desires causes injury to the individual and others as well. The philosophy of Daoism would consider the metaverse to be negative because it is going against the flow of nature. It is actively trying to override the way that things naturally flow, and the way people naturally live and interact with others. Participating in the metaverse would be taking direct action to reach a desire that is quite possibly unreachable. Humans will always have desires to reach something better, something more perfect, but must let go of that desire and accept the reality we are living in.
Ethics (moral philosophy) is a philosophy that deals with the nature of morality, how people should live their lives and interact with others, and the standards of human behavior. Ethics is not based on religion, one’s personal feelings, or following laws, it’s based on standards of right and wrong. For example, it sometimes has to do with why it’s not accepted for people to steal, cheat, or murder other humans. These standards of right and wrong are based on many factors, one being that the actions people take should benefit society. Ethical standards must be supported by logical, unfailing, and sustainable reasons. We don’t know what the ethical standards will be in this virtual world. We don’t know and can’t yet know how it will deal with harassment, bullying, lying, cheating, and violence. What if someone creates a virtual world with the intentions of going into it and killing millions of people? Has that person become a murderer? The people within these worlds are going to be designed to be so real that perhaps their deaths will feel real? What is ethical about that?
Philosophical skepticism is a belief that questions our ability to know anything with certainty, or sometimes to know anything at all. Many skeptics believe that it is better to postpone belief than to rely on questionable conclusions. Being skeptical is important to being a free thinker, and much better than being naive and gullible. When one does not apply skepticism to any given situation, they can be taken advantage of and deceived, led by fantasy and lack of reasoning. When it comes to the metaverse, people need to practice skepticism. This doesn’t mean shutting down all the positive possibilities of the metaverse, it simply means each individual should think critically and carefully before drawing conclusions and thoughtlessly going along with them.
People who support the metaverse have a variety of interesting reasons why it is such a good idea, and a positive way for society to progress. Some people have talked about the positive environmental effects that the metaverse could have. If we could feel as if we’re in the same room as other people without actually traveling to be there, it would be beneficial for the environment. We wouldn’t have to take trains, planes, and cars, we could just click a button and feel like we were right next to them. Is virtual connection really as good as physical interaction though? Isn’t something lost if we no longer interact with our loved ones face to face, human to human? For example, would you rather look at your girlfriend on a zoom call, or get to kiss her in person? Are we really arguing that people will be satisfied with seeing people through a screen versus in real life? If we’ve learned anything from the ongoing pandemic, it’s the importance of human touch and physical connection. Additionally, the metaverse could actually have a negative impact on the planet in the long term. If people are constantly consumed by their computers and their simulated realities, they will begin to lose interest in the physical world, and perhaps more importantly, they will lose hope in it. People won’t want to focus on the climate crisis when they could neglect real problems and escape into virtual reality.
Some gamers in particular, who have been fascinated by virtual reality for a long time now, have more reasons why they want to participate in the Metaverse. One young man explained it like this: “In the virtual world, you don’t have to be yourself. You can discover who you really are.” This statement is up to interpretation, but he said it pretty clearly. You don’t have to be yourself. So many people have talked about this as being a good thing and how great the metaverse is because now you can achieve ‘the perfect you’. But once you exit your virtual reality game and find that you’re still the real you, sitting in the dark in your mom's basement... that’s not going to feel so great. #identitycrisis
I have shown the reasons why Meta believes the metaverse to be the next great evolution of society, and I’ve shown why it won’t be. I’ve shown how although it’s marketed on connection, it is stripping us of human nature and what is truly important. I have talked about multiple schools of philosophy and how they would disagree with the idea of the metaverse. If you put the weight of all these philosophies together, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that the metaverse is and will inevitably be detrimental to our society.
West, Peter. “The Dangers of Zuckerberg's Metaverse: Peter West.” IAI TV - Changing How the World Thinks, 4 Nov. 2021, https://iai.tv/articles/dont-fall-for-zuckerbergs-metaverse-auid-1961.
“Introduction to Daoism: Asia for Educators: Columbia University.” Introduction to Daoism | Asia for Educators | Columbia University, http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1000bce_daoism.htm.
University, Santa Clara. “What Is Ethics?” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/what-is-ethics/.
Sullins, John. “Information Technology and Moral Values.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 9 Nov. 2018, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/it-moral-values/#OnlGamWor.
Skepticism, https://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/intro_text/chapter%205%20epistemolo gy/Skepticism.htm.