27.09.16 – Mimesis, Indexicality & The Digital Age

As humans, we have an innate desire to copy and mimic reality and throughout centuries we have done this through different mediums such as paintings and photographs. But why do we do this? The greek myth of Dibutades’ Daughter tells the story of a woman tracing the outline of her lover who is about to leave for battle. The reason behind this is an obvious one: the woman wants a copy, a trace, of her lover to hold onto once he is no longer with her. As humans, we have a desire to hold onto reality and we do so through replicating it.

Plato & Aristotle’s theories about Mimesis

Mimesis (to mimic) is not something that only the human race does, however we are the ones that do it the most. Philosophers Plato and Aristotle have very different opinions about humans, their desire to copy and whether it is a good thing to do.

Greek philosopher Plato is quite pessimistic and frowns upon the need to replicate reality as he believes it gives us a poor and superficial copy of what reality truly is and that is misses haptic dimensions such as sound, touch and smell. He argues that there is not much point in creating copies and simulations as they take us further away from reality itself. We are instead given “illusions” of it and become part of the “world of appearances”.

plato-cave
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Furthermore he also believes that is harms the morality and psychological well-being of a person upon realising that something is not real. It makes us doubtful of everything and has the potential to destroy reality itself. False realities also have the power to make us feel bad about ourselves when we do not meet the certain standards the reality is presenting to us. A modern example of this is the way models are represented in magazines and adverts creating a false body image which many girls feel the need to have in order to be accepted in society.

Aristotle on the other hand is not as pessimistic and believes that the desire to copy and imitate helps us gain knowledge and learn new things that cannot be thought in any other way. A prime of example of this is children and how they copy certain actions their parents do. Not only can simulations allow to to practice and experience things in a safe environment but nowadays virtual reality is also used to help cure disorders such as PTSD. How effective it is is still questioned, however some good must come out of it.

Indexicality & The Digital Age

Indexicality is communicating ideas through icons, symbols and indexes creating a more real image/copy since the copy can only be made because the real subject was present. Although it is still a copy, there is a sort of trace of reality left behind creating a closer relationship between the real and the virtual.

camera_obscura_1

A good example of indexicality is photography. The image one takes with a camera is an index as the person had to physically be there in order for the picture to exist and therefore can only exist if the real exists. However that connection with reality is slowly removed once the image starts to be manipulated using other technology. The issue we face nowadays is the fact that we do not always know whether something is truly real or has been manipulated or changed in any way.

Inventor Elon Musk believes that we already live in a simulated world, his argument being that the incredibly fast advancement of video game technology indicates we’ll be capable of creating a fully lifelike simulation of existence in a short span of time. However, he does not think of it as necessarily a bad thing. Musk presents us with two options. “Either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilization will cease to exist.

 

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