Linguistic Virtual Reality: Is There No Way Out?

Article excerpt

MORE THAN TWO DECADES of research and development have contributed to a "reality" produced by technology. Virtual reality refers to a world accessible through technology and subject to manipulation by those who access it.

Some extensions of virtual reality include the virtual reality "story" that has multiple potential outcomes, contingent upon the decisions and actions of those who "participate in the story." In a virtual reality "flight," the plane may either land safely or explode on impact, depending on the skill of the "pilot."

Entrance into a world of technological virtual reality requires conscious thought and action. Entrance into a world of "linguistic virtual reality," on the other hand, can be gained with or without conscious or deliberate thought. And for some who unknowingly enter a linguistic world of their own creation, there may be no way out.

Many general semantics practitioners have long recognized that language allows us to create powerful linguistic worlds that resemble the directly perceivable "real" world. Most of us give little thought to our ability to create an attractive linguistic world -- when we think about relaxing on a sunny beach, for example, while we endure a root canal. Nonetheless, the idea that the linguistic virtual reality we and/or others create may have more power over us than the directly perceivable real world has serious implications.

Many who study technologically-created virtual reality concern themselves with such significant questions as how to distinguish between "real" and "unreal." And what if virtual reality becomes so attractive to participants that it literally "becomes their reality?" Perhaps those of us who study general semantics could also benefit from concerns like these. Consider, for example, a virtual reality/simulation game in which a participant "chooses" to be employed as a teacher. Because the predetermined parameters of the technological game preclude employment as a teacher, she fails.

Might linguistic virtual reality be just as limiting to an unemployed teacher seeking work in the "real" world? …