Metaverse as Collective Narcissism, Fantasy, Mental Illness (with Benny Hendel)

Uploaded 11/28/2022, approx. 27 minute read

So now we're talking about the following topic.

The dangers and promises, dangers on the one handand promises of extended virtual and augmented reality.

From cities to the metaverse. Floor is yours.

What I'm referring to is the process of virtualization.

There is a general retreat, general escape from what we've been talking about. There is a general retreat, general escape from what we called in our previous conversationthe preferred or privileged frame of referencewhich is reality.

We talked in our previous conversation about thereality. The reality where you have no volition. You are in it, you are immersed in it, it's directly accessible and it's unmediated.

As opposed to simulation. Simulations which require technology of some kindor at the minimum an act of will, a decision to enter the simulation.

So there is a general tendency to move from reality to simulations. That's true generally.

It started with the cinema. Not with computer. The theater?

No, the theater. But theater was not that immersive in the sense that it didn't require an act of dissociation as the cinema does.

That's why when the first movie was projected on the screenit was a train coming into a station. Peopleran away. Ran away. They were panicked, they were in panic because they thought the train was going to run over them.

You can't do that in the theater.

So I think actually the cut off is the cinema.

We started to seriously evade and avoid reality when the cinema startedand then it became of course with computing. It became an enormous trendand now we have unleashed upon us the metaverse which we will discuss in a minute.

So I call this process virtualization.

But virtualization started in my view even earlier, let's say 7 to 10,000 years ago, when we moved from villages and farms and agriculture and the land and the soil, we moved to cities.

Cities are simulations in effect. Cities are totally artificial creations. They are much less real than when you are in nature, when you are working the land, when you are growing your own food and so on.

In a city you inhabit confined spaces and within these spaces you can make belief that you are not dependent. Everything comes to you. The food comes to you from the countryside and so on.

So we already in urbanization, we already have the rudimentary primordial elements of virtualization, a retreat from nature, a retreat from reality, a retreat from the land into spaces which are brain children. These spaces are brain children of architects. They are actually translations of the minds of architects, which is a good definition of simulation by the way.

Okay, so we went from agriculture to cities and that created a major psychological revolution.

Because when you are in agriculture, you need to have a specific psychology. And when you move to the city, and the city is the dream or the brainchild of an architect, in effect, you move into a dream state. Your psychology changes in a city.

Two or three examples.

In agriculture, you need to have a very well developed sense of time. You need to follow the seasons, you need to seed and when to plant and when to sow, when to reap and so on, when to harvest. So time is of crucial importance, a lot of time awareness in agriculture.

Secondly, in agriculture, you need to delay gratification. You put a seed in the ground, you need to wait. You can't just immediately reap the reward. You need to have a lot of patience.

In short, in agriculture, you pay for the consequences of your actions. There's a direct linkage between your actions and the consequences of your actions. And it takes time. It takes time. And it takes patience. And planning. Planning and it takes time. It takes time. And it takes patience. And planning. Planning and investment and commitment and patience and so on.

What do we call all these? Maturity.

In agriculture, agriculture forced upon you maturity. You were mature or you were dead. These were two options. Maturity or dead. You can't run a farm without being a farmer.

And to be a farmer, you need to be highly matureor you're dead. Simple. Dead, I mean like dead, like you don't want to eat.

But cities changed the psychology of peoplebecause they had immediate rewards. They could go to a grocery store and buy bread. They didn't need to plant, they didn't need to wait, they didn't need to reap, they didn't need to harvest. They just went to the grocery store and bought a bread, a loaf of bread.

That changed everything. Even that it's one hour. It's definitely not six months or seven months.

So the horizon, the time horizon was compressed, became compressed. And level of maturity deteriorated. People became much more infantile. They became much more dependent.

In the city, the city fosters in you total dependence. On many, many agents.


On the suppliers of food, on suppliers of water, gas. You name it. You're totally dependent. Electricity. Whatever it is, you're dependent.

The organizing principle of cities is dependency. The organizing principle of agriculture is self-reliance.

Simple. Fact.

So the psychology change, of course, because you adapt to your environment. We will talk about it when we talk about culture.

You adapt to your environment, so psychology change. It's autarchic. The farm is autarchic.

And another thing happened in the cities.

The unnatural agglomeration of human beings in one location, which was essentially a dreamscape.

Someone's dream, the architect or whatever. Lafayette, when Lafayette designed cities, it was totally his dream state.

He designed these wide avenues and architects have a huge influence on our habitat. We inhabit architects' minds, including this room. It's someone's, once someone's dream or fantasy.

So when this agglomeration, when this crowding started, people felt the need to be noticed. They felt the need to be seen.

In a typical agricultural community, everyone knows everyone, of course, and you are seen by everyone all the time. In a city, no one sees you, no one notices you. So you develop a compulsion to be seen and to be noticed.

And your behavior escalates as you try to attract attention. Why do we need to be seen? Because it's a survival thing. Babies need to be seen by mommy. If they're not seen by mommy, they die.

So the need to be noticed is primordial. To call their mother, they cry. They cry to be noticed.

And what do we do on social media? We cry. We cry out for... The language tells you this. Crying out loud. In social media, you're crying out loud. You're infantilized. You become a baby again. You want mommy world to notice you. It's instinctive. It's reflexive. It's not, you know, it's not mediated via... It's just what we need to be seen and noticed. It's very basic.

So this is the city. Imagine virtualization from farm to city had this massive impact on us.

Imagine what's going to happen when we transition from cities to the metaverse.

The metaverse is a much more profound form of virtualization. It's going to have much more profound psychological impacts.

What is the metaverse?

What is the metaverse? I knew you would ask. I thought you would never ask.

A metaverse is a combination of technologieswhich provide online simulationswhich you can then inhabit using specialized devices and technology at this stage.

But probably in 2030 years, you wouldn't need these devices. Everything would be Wi-Fi through the air.

But right this very second, to inhabit these simulations, you need goggles, you need haptic gloves, you need all kinds of things.

And then if you do wear this equipment, it's wearables, if you wear this equipment, you are able to totally access the simulationand you have no interface, no contact with reality. You're utterly inside the simulation.

Are you alone there? You could be alone. You could be with other people. And these other people, they also have to wear these accessories.

Yes. Everyone has to wear the same accessoriesand you can share a space, a simulation space. They don't have to be in the same room like you. One can be in Thailand, one in Israel, one in Russia, and all three of you can be in the simulation space.

And everybody knows in his or her mind that this happened. That's where Chalmers is wrong. Everyone has to wear these things, make a decision, turn on the computer. This is not reality. It's not reality by any stretch of the word.

Anyhow, the transition from farm to cities was virtualization. Because we inhabited someone else's mind.

What is a simulation? Someone is designing the simulation. Someone is coding and programming the simulation. It is another person's brainchild. It's another person's fantasy and dream.

So when we moved from farm to cities, we moved into architectural fantasies, architectural virtualization.

Nowwe are going to move from cities to metaverse. We are going to move into a programmer's dream or a coder's fantasy.

The psychological revolution that happened when we moved from agriculture to cities is nothing compared to the psychological revolution that will happen when we all finally move into the metaverse.

Which is the question of time.

And you're probably thinking of further infantilization.

They are utter. But I'm worried even more by other things.

For example, the metaverse is solipsistic. In the sense that in the metaverse you are totally self-sufficient. You do interact with other peoplebut you don't need them. And sometimes you don't want them. So other people become commoditized. They become like avatars. They become like representations, symbols, game elements, figments.

So solipsism.

Second thing, the metaverse will encourage you to be even more self-sufficient than you are now.

Here is the thing. The more self-sufficient you become, the less you tend to interact with people. That's been proven now beyond any doubt. People interact less with other people if they can avoid it. If they can...

And the more you avoid, the more you tend to avoid it. It's escalating. It's self-perpetuating. It's addictive.

So self-sufficiently leads to asocial behavior. Not antisocial. Not criminal. But asocial. Not necessarily. Not sis-er. Can be antisocial. But asocial definitely. In the sense that you will avoid people.

Your needs to interact with other human beings will be fully gratified via the metaverse. Even if you want to have sex with someone, you will have sex alone in your room wearing a suit. A suit, a physical suit that simulates the sex. Doubt, feel, smell and so on. So you will not really need other people.

We already see this happening. Already we are seeing this happening. Huge swaths of humanity are totally isolated, atomized.

How long does it take? Can you stay there? You have to eat. You have to drink.

No. The metaverse is a total solution.

Well, you have to eat and drink, of course. But the metaverse is a total solution in the sense that your workplace will be in the metaverse.

Your company will open a site in the metaverseyou will go to work there.

What will you produce?

Anyhowwe produce nowadays something like 80% of the economy is manipulation of symbols.

Anyhow, what is an accountant? He manipulates symbols.

What is a lawyer? They manipulate symbols.

So today2% of the population is engaged in agriculture. In the developed world. Not in agricultural countries. Even in not developed world, less developed world.

We are already talking about 25% compared to 80 and 90% only 40 years ago.

So clearlyphysical professions, professions which deal with the manipulation of physical objects, one way or another, industry, agriculture, they are dying, they are disappearing.

But we need iron, we need... Robots.

A typical person in a Toyota factory, a single person, produces 100 cars. Per day?

Only 40 years ago you needed 100 people to produce 100 cars.

So the difference is robotization and automation. So robotizationand automationand computerizationand so on and so forth, they will take over most professions. And we will begin to manipulate symbols.

So alreadyfor examplethe video game industry is muchmuch bigger than the cinema industry.

People spending time, instead of going to watch a movie, they spend time playing playstations to be able to...


Because the video game is much more simulation than the movie. It makes you active. You influence the movie. It's a simulation. You control the environment somehow. You even control the plotby the way.

Many video games allow you to decide what is the plot, where the video game is going.

So the metaphys will encourage you to disconnect from humanity completely. And you will work in the metaphys, have sex in the metaphys, shop for fashion in the metaphys, do everything in the metaphys except physiological problems.

Speaking about your wanting to be noticed, is there this element there too?

Of course, because in the metaphys you could be anything you want. You can be a rock star. You can be a stripper.

There is an application called VRChatwhere unfortunately adolescents go and they strip and have group sex.

It's like the Seven Lives of Walter Mittybut it's intensive. Immersive. Immersive in the sense that you are in itwholly and truly and totally.

And so these are the metallists.

Now, there are some philosophical issues here. Very deep philosophical issues.

Unfortunatelyat this stagenot well noticed.

First of all, all the technology until the 1990s, all technologies were about extending the human body.

You name one technology and I will show you how it extends the human body. The sword extended your hand. The boat extended your hands when you swim. I meanthe car extended your legs.

All technologies were extensions of the body. Or the mind or the brainwhich is also part of the body.

In the 1990s, for the first time, we have transitioned from technologies that extend the mind and the bodyto technologies that allow us to evade and escape from reality.

So todaymajority of technologies are about avoiding reality, are about escaping from reality.

That's the first thing. In a battle, a war is erupting. It's not a war about how you experience realitybecause all previous technologies were about how you experience reality.

For example, consider the internet. You have a browser. What is a browser? A browser structures the way that you experience the internet. It is through the browser that you experience the internetand the browser has limitations and specifications. So browser tells you how to experience the internet.

Similarly, cinema, similarlyall other technologies, they structured your experienceincluding the travel industry, including transportation, all of them structured your experience, structured your reality, told you how to experience reality. The new technologies are not about how you experience reality. They are about who owns reality.

If I own a simulation, I own your reality. I don't only own how you experience reality, but I own your reality.

You are coming into my reality. When you are using my simulation, you are entering my reality.

I'll see if I understand. If I choose to go to Italy via Alitalia, they have their plans of shipment of flying.

I know that I go to them and they'll fly me to Rome or to Napa.

Yes, but they don't control Rome. They don't control the act of travelling. They don't control your decision to travel. They control very little, but they do structure your reality.

They do, because they tell me how long it's going to take.

Yes, so they control your experience.

How many stops on the way.

So they control your experience.

But in the future, Alitalia will own Rome.

In what way?

In this simulation. In this analogy.

When you come to my simulation, I own this reality. I am your reality.

So this must be the danger, right?

It's a huge danger because...

We are talking about dangers and promises.

Yes, because it's a danger because there will be people and corporations who will own reality.

First time in human history, will own reality. That's one danger.

Second danger. It will be their interest to blur the boundaries between reality and simulation.

They would want you to spend more time in the simulation.

Because more time you spend in the simulation, more money they are making.

So they will structure the simulation to blur...

And to make it addictive. To make it addictive and to blur the boundaries.

So that you will no longer be able to tell. You will be like in a constant trip.

Constant drug haze. You will no longer be able to tell which is which.

They are also going to narrow reality. Whatthey are going to do is a process called twinning.

Twinning is when a simulation borrows elements from the privileged frame of reference from reality.

Simulation borrows elements from reality. And then pretends that these elements belong to the simulation, not to reality.

Give me an example if you can.

Well, imagine that you...

Again, you want to read a book.

Imagine you want to read a book.

Reading a book is an experience in reality, obviously.

The simulation will take the book, make you believe that you are sitting near a physical table and reading the physical book.

And then claim that this experience always had belonged to the simulation.

It's not. It's a simulation...

And the book, if I want to read Chaucer, I'm crazy. I want to read Chaucer.

Will I get Chaucer in the simulation?

I have already. You have all physical books available online.

But you will not be able to tell the difference. You will feel that you are really sitting at a physical table, reading a real book, and gradually you will begin to associate this experience with a simulation, not with reality.

They will appropriate reality and convince you that they're delivering this to you, not reality.

And this is called twinning. It's a very dangerous process.

Finally, of course, it will create addiction in some people, not everyone, but many people.

I think we are talking about 30, 40% of the population become addicted.

And we already know from studies that exposure to simulations and screens increases depression and anxiety in people.

We know that we have studies by Twenge and othersthat the more exposed you are to simulated states and screens, the more you are likely to develop depression and anxiety.

Actually, among users of social media, in a period of 10 years only, anxiety has gone up 500%and depression has gone up 300%.

And this is only with social media?

Social media, which is not simulation.

You know that you're in Facebook.

But it encourages a certain divorce from realitybecause that's why they're using words like friends.

You know, I'm going to make a comparison that is very distasteful.

When the Nazis took the Jews to Auschwitz, they put them in a bath.

They told them they're going to have a bath, a shower, a shower, a button.

They told them they're going to have a shower. Calling someone on Facebook a friend, someone you've never met, is this Nazi technique of mislabeling and misnaming things with intent to deceive.

So, a friend is a well-defined figment of reality that Facebook had appropriated it.

Not a figment, sorry. A real thing.

It's not a figment. It's an element of reality.


A friend is a real thing. It's a real thing. It's an element of reality.

That Facebook had appropriated this.

And now when we say friend, we think actually more about Facebook than about reality.

When I say friend, many...

I don't know. You and I, we consider friend as a friend.

Friend as a friend.

But if I go to my granddaughter, maybe she considers friend. Almost for sure.

When you say friend, she will think of Facebook. Or some other platform.

Sothey had appropriated this element of realityand they made this element theirs.

But deceitfully.

Because a friend of Facebook is not a friend in reality as well.

It's just a stranger. He may be a friend.

He may be, but he's not in most cases.

I have 5,000 friends on Facebook. How many of them do you have?

How many? Maybe 100? 200, maybe 300? 200, 300. Maybe 1,000.

The other 4,000. They're not friends. And yet they're called friends.

They're passers-by.

It's like the button in Auschwitz.

Wow. Okay.

Soyou talked about, I think you talked about dangers.

Are there also promises?

Well, the promise is that some things can be delivered more efficaciously.

Sofor example, work probably will improve through the metaverse.

Because collaboration will be more integrated and more efficient.

Efficiencies, I think, mostly.

The only thing I can see is efficiencies.

Plus, of course, there are segments of the population.

For example, disabled people.

Sofor them, the metaverse will be a blessing.

It will allow them to travel all over the worldbecause tourism will be a big thing in metaverse.

It will allow them to have sex.

Soit will open up the world to mentally ill people, disabled peopleand so on.

It's a segment of the population.

It's not without its merits and without its blessings.

But if it is left to its own devicesand the usage is not limited and restructured, we are in enormous danger as a species.

In enormous danger.

It's a serious threatin my view.

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