Facing Immersive “Post-Truth” in AIVR?
2. Nested Affective VR Worlds
- Affective Realism and Social Reality: As stated by Barrett, “The human brain is anatomically structured so that no decision or action can be free of interoception and affect” . Thereby, interoception and interoceptive predictions pertain to statistical regularities of the internal milieu of an organism (related to the body) , while core affect is seen as a fundamental property of consciousness  with especially valence (pleasant/unpleasant) and arousal (activated/deactivated) as crucial components. To put it very simply, according to constructionist theories in psychology, all mental states are based on constructions involving three basic elements : exteroceptive sensory array (related to sensory predictions and information sampled from external world), interoception, and prior knowledge including past experience. The hereto linked circumstance that “affective feelings (incidental or not) naturally infuse our perceptions and give us a sense of confidence that they are valid windows onto the real world”  has been termed affective realism. Thereby, human perception imposes cognitive-affective concepts on the world, often previously constructed in social reality (abbreviated with SR in the following) and shared via language. In this sense, human perception also exhibits a biologically shaped social nature, given that humans reciprocally regulate the biological nervous systems of their social conspecifics1 [37,39,40,42] via interpersonal physiological dynamics  that humans can even remotely bring about using language . Generally, “human brains are transactive and cannot be considered outside the context of other human brains” . In our view, affective realism and the embodied nature of cognition are crucial to further understanding, as it stresses that SR is of an embodied and perceiver-dependent nature —as are mental constructions like emotions , moral judgments , thoughts, perceptions, and so on.
- Theory-Ladenness: In science, it is important to separate perceiver-dependent from perceiver-independent phenomena which directly pertain to the physical reality (abbreviated with PhyR in the following) that diverse scientific areas attempt to understand. As emphasized by Barrett, “all science relies on human concepts, and this is true for the astronomy as it is for the science of emotion” . For illustrative purposes, Barrett explains that while the existence of celestial bodies in PhyR is perceiver-independent, the status of one celestial body being a planet is not (see the reclassification of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet). In short, humans do not have direct access to the hidden states in PhyR, but try to infer those. In this process, one needs to keep in mind that all observations are theory-laden, which cautions scientists that since one actively samples the environment to gather data, one’s prior socio-cultural context, hypotheses, and affective predispositions inherently shape what we perceive as information and what as noise. To conclude, even prior to AIVR, our perception of reality was never entirely objective, nor did we directly have access to truth which could suddenly get lost by experiencing immersive falsehood. SR is as real as socio-cultural conventions, such as language or money. While its embodied constructions contain real physiological ingredients grounded in PhyR, one often tends to see more of what one believes than vice versa [46,47].
- Nested VR Ground Truth: An important phenomenological aspect of human experience is its virtual, perspectival, and egocentric nature [48,49] with a simultaneous grounding in PhyR linked to cybernetic control . It has been postulated that the human persona inhabits a virtual world generated by the brain [48,50] and governed by affective dynamics to navigate the physical environment anticipating bodily needs before they occur (this process has also been termed allostasis [30,51]). More generally, waking time, imagination, and dreaming are all assumed to be linked to a virtual reality experience (that we abbreviate as in the following) which is generated by the brain for embodied control purposes . In waking time, this virtual experience is directly constrained by PhyR, while dreaming has been described as “virtual reality proper”  due to the decoupling from external sensory stimulation and blockage of motor actuators (with the exception of e.g., eye muscles). While awake and wearing technical VR headsets and being immersed in a virtual world, a complex novel nested situation occurs, “a nested form of information flow in which the biological mind and its technological niche influence each other in ways we are just beginning to understand” . In these scenarios, our experience is constrained by both the artificially created VR world, and still partially always also PhyR (e.g., simply by having a body and literally sitting, standing or walking during the setting). In short, even without using any VR technology, the human experience of the world does not only reflect statistical regularities about PhyR, but consists in goal-directed, embodied, affective, and theory-laden virtual constructions of a perspectival and perceiver-dependent nature, such as those involved in SR. When using VR, one adds an additional layer of sensory-motor and affective constraints, leading to a nested composition. With social VR , a novel special case of SR constrained by VR arises and poses new challenges.
3. Immersive Falsehood–Post-Truth, Post-Falsification or Other?
- Post-Truth? As advanced by Buffachi , the perception of a “post-truth” era may be linked to the definition assigned to truth in the first place—especially when truth is associated with consensus, which seems to be compromised in modern times. We agree with Buffachi to instead utilize the word "truth" in a much more deflationary manner, namely, strictly for scientific endeavors. In our view, consensus is a dominant factor in SR, and technologies such as AIVR may be able to profoundly distort features of SR and certain democratic processes. However, when it comes to PhyR, it is obvious that AIVR artefacts do not irreversibly destroy our capability to create refutable conjectures about PhyR. While one could believe that the loss of truth would be exacerbated by AIVR because observations may become unreliable2, it is important to keep in mind that no repetition of observations can ever provide an experimental logically valid justification for a theory [55,56]. As Karl Popper explained, induction is logically invalid, and for instance, no amount of observed white swans ever proves that all swans are white [55,58]. He pointed at the asymmetry between falsifiability and verifiability , emphasizing falsifiability as one of the most important criteria for scientific theories. While no amount of successful experiments can ever justify a theory, that is, establish its truth, negative experiments can make the theory problematic. (Thereby, note that as elaborated in the Duhem–Quine thesis , no experimental falsification attempt can be considered as absolute and conclusive. Consequently, it is the case in practice that only multiple contextualized failures and/or the presence of competitive alternatives contribute to consider the theory as refuted. However, since justifications are logically invalid on principle [55,56,59], this type of more complex, context-aware, sophisticated falsificationalism and criticism remains the recommendable alternative.) In short, if one does neither equate truth with social consensus nor scientific truth with justification via observations, immersive falsehood of the future lets the existence of truth be untouched—even if not directly accessible. Hence, there is no reason to assume that humans inhabit a post-truth era. However, this very asymmetry between falsifiability and verifiability leads to a further complication addressed in the next point.
- Post-Falsification? In our view, a legitimate concern is the ability of malevolent actors in AIVR to compromise material that could be utilized to falsify hypotheses in diverse contexts, such as science, history, forensics, and journalism with political repercussions. As stated by Popper, while coherence cannot attest truth, “inconsistency and incoherence do establish falsehood” . Concerning historical and also forensic sources , it is important to analyze whether they exhibit mutual or internal inconsistencies. In other scientific areas, falsification attempts can be more easily repeated, but scientists often rely at least on the honesty of other entities publishing their experimental results (i.e., that other scientists do not deliberately temper their results). For instance, future immersive falsehood in the form of AI-manipulated VR news for disinformation , but also defamation and extortion purposes, could distort historical and forensic records and exacerbate issues in the information ecosystem. Malicious actors could craft future realistic immersive experiences (e.g., of fake AI-generated confirmatory experiments and research ) to undermine the scientific enterprise. With increasing degrees of realism, many scientists may not stay immune against such strategies. At first sight, it might thus seem as if immersive falsehood could compromise falsification (e.g., via future VR deepfakes [9,10]). Fake memories could be specifically induced in users  that may turn out to be difficult to detect. However, as noted under the last bullet point and known from the Duhem–Quine thesis, it is not the case that falsification can be experimentally conclusively established in isolation (mainly due to inherent background assumptions that always play a role). In this vein, it signifies that immersive falsehood would predominantly complicate the falsification process by having the potential to lure humans into wrong background assumptions and slowing down progress. However, while acknowledging these significant impacts of immersive falsehood, this complication seems, however, to represent a matter of degree, rather than a matter of kind, which is why we postulate that there is no reason to assume the science-threatening scenario of a post-falsification era.
4. Future Work
Conflicts of Interest
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For instance, social groups reveal an attunement of physiological parameters [34,35], social relationships act as physiological regulators [34,36], biobehavorial synchrony serves as scaffold for the maturation of infant brains facilitating social development [37,38] and the metabolic costs and benefits of interpersonal physiological dynamics modulate social interactions throughout a lifetime [39,40]. Hence, it is also no surprise that social isolation comes with the physiological burden of less regulatory facilitations  and “lacking social connection qualifies as a risk factor for premature mortality” .
In fact, from a Bayesian empiricist point of view which links science to true beliefs and empirical justifications, deepfakes are already assumed to represent epistemic threats  gradually emptying audiovisual samples of information. By contrast, Popperian epistemology  sees science as an explanation-based and criticism-centered endeavor with falsifiability as decisive criterium—which has been extended by Deutsch  who views science as the quest to identify invariant hard-to-vary explanations of reality. On that view, deepfakes (and immersive falsehood) do not put truth at risk (see  for more details including the safety-relevant urgency to thematize these fundamental Bayesian vs. Popperian epistemic divergences).
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Aliman, N.-M.; Kester, L. Facing Immersive “Post-Truth” in AIVR? Philosophies 2020, 5, 45. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5040045
Aliman N-M, Kester L. Facing Immersive “Post-Truth” in AIVR? Philosophies. 2020; 5(4):45. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5040045Chicago/Turabian Style
Aliman, Nadisha-Marie, and Leon Kester. 2020. "Facing Immersive “Post-Truth” in AIVR?" Philosophies 5, no. 4: 45. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5040045