Julian Baggini in Prospect:
“Can you see me?” In the age of video calls, this has become a common question. But when posed to philosopher David Chalmers, it takes on a deeper significance. Regarding the basic version of virtual reality (VR) in which we’re having our conversation, Chalmers suggests that “some very conservative philosophers would say no, I am merely seeing a pattern of pixels on a screen and I’m not seeing you behind it.” But Chalmers has a different view: “Yes, I’m seeing you perfectly,” he replies, covering both meanings with his answer. His seemingly simple claim has implications not just for the possibilities of virtual reality, but the nature of actual reality, too.
Chalmers is one of the best-known philosophers of the 21st century. Although his latest book, Reality+, is the first aimed squarely at the general reader, he’s already managed to cross over from academia, helped hugely by his essay “The Matrix as Metaphysics,” which he wrote for the movie’s official website in 2003. He also inspired Tom Stoppard’s play about consciousness, The Hard Problem. Chalmers’s easy manner, scruffy attire and (for many years) unkempt long hair have led him to be plausibly labelled a “rock-star philosopher.”