BSP Podcast: Belinda Marshal – ‘Being-in-the-Virtual-World’

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Belinda Marshal present a paper from our 2020 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

Season 5 episode 117: 12 June 2021

This episode of Season 5 of the BSP Podcast features Belinda Marshal, University of St. Andrews. The presentation is taken from our 2020 annual conference: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

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Belinda Marshal

ABSTRACT: Questions surrounding the nature of being and existence have been tackled by philosophers for centuries, however, in this paper I analyse how concepts explored by these philosophers translate into virtual environments, as explored within virtual reality technologies. To begin, I will discuss the concept of “realism” – in an attempt to argue for the case that virtual reality – although still technology – can actually be considered a form of reality in itself. In accepting that virtual reality is a form of reality – or at least, a convincing enough extension of reality, we can accept that many existential possibilities and freedoms can be explored within virtual realms. (See: Myeung-Sook (2001)) This then opens up the potential for discussion surrounding what kinds of experiences we could expect to have within virtual environments, how they compare to phenomenological discussion of experience within “real” environments – and how these still hold both philosophical, and real world significance. Phenomenological analysis of accounts of “being” in terms of technology are vastly unexplored, beyond the postphenomenological movement as written by the likes of Ihde and Verbeek – however, even within postphenomenology, this discussion rarely ventures into virtual reality technologies. This research is important due to the level of potential real world impact – which is something else I will further clarify; particularly, with the increased use of virtual reality technologies to treat people with severe disabilities, I believe that it is crucial to explore how virtual environments can best be used and designed, to enable the user to maximise their lived experiences within virtual reality, if it is not possible for them in the primary version of reality. This does not limit the impact of such research, however, as virtual reality is becoming an increasingly popular form of entertainment technology, it is critical that we aim to gain a well-rounded understanding of its potential impact. This level of research also expands beyond the phenomenological questions, but also gains strength from other areas of philosophy such as extended cognition; Clark and Chalmers’ original paper The Extended Mind (1998) has often been translated to suit modern day technology (such as the smartphone) – however, more recent research on extended cognition (and 4E cognition as a whole) has wide applicability to many forms of technology, yet is rarely explored within the context of computer-mediated reality. The cognitive links between technology and self, combined with the sensory and experiential links between virtual reality and self, can provide an excellent framework for further philosophical discussion on the phenomenology of virtuality.

BIO: I have a PhD in progress at the University of St Andrews as part of the SASP program, under supervision by Prof. Michael Wheeler and Dr. Kevin Scharp, project titled: ‘Virtual Reality and the Extended Mind’. Previously completed my MA thesis titled ‘The Question Concerning Virtual Reality’ for which I was awarded a Distinction. I have also presented my paper ‘Authenticity, Virtual Reality and AI’ at Cambridge University for the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, as well as in Nottingham for the British Personalist Forum; and my paper ‘Feminism and the Extended Mind’ at Cardiff University for the Feminism and Technology conference. I also have an upcoming chapter publication in an edited volume on Transhumanism, titled ‘Evolving the Natural-born Cyborg: Using Virtuality to Navigate the Posthuman’.

This recording is taken from the BSP Annual Conference 2020 Online: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’. Organised with the University of Exeter and sponsored by Egenis and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. BSP2020AC was held online this year due to global concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. For the conference our speakers recorded videos, our keynotes presented live over Zoom, and we also recorded some interviews. Podcast episodes from BSP2020AC are soundtracks of those videos where we and the presenters feel the audio works as a standalone.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?