Virtuality in philosophy

Virtuality is a concept in philosophy elaborated by French thinker Gilles Deleuze. The virtualization is the passage of current to the virtual. For Pierre Lévy the virtual is not the opposite of the real, but a continuation of it. There are several types of virtualization, such as the virtualization of text, action, present, violence, body, among others. Virtualization has always been present in our lives, and it influences in many ways, especially with regard to the evolution of the human species.

Deleuze used the term virtual to refer to an aspect of reality that is ideal, but nonetheless real. An example of this is the meaning, or sense, of a proposition that is not a material aspect of that proposition (whether written or spoken) but is nonetheless an attribute of that proposition. Both Henri Bergson, who strongly influenced Deleuze, and Deleuze himself build their conception of the virtual in reference to a quotation in which writer Marcel Proust defines a virtuality, memory as “real but not actual, ideal but not abstract”. A dictionary definition written by Charles Sanders Peirce, referencing the philosophy of Duns Scotus, supports this understanding of the virtual as something that is “as if” it were real, and the everyday use of the term to indicate what is “virtually” so, but not so in fact.

Deleuze’s concept
Deleuze’s concept of the virtual has two aspects: first, the virtual is a kind of surface effect produced by actual causal interactions at the material level. When one uses a computer, the monitor displays an image that depends on physical interactions happening at the level of hardware. The window is nowhere in actuality, but is nonetheless real and can be interacted with. This example actually leads to the second aspect of the virtual that Deleuze insists upon: its generative nature. This virtual is a kind of potentiality that becomes fulfilled in the actual. It is still not material, but it is real.

Deleuze argues that Henri Bergson developed “the notion of the virtual to its highest degree” and that he based his entire philosophy on it. In Bergsonism, Deleuze writes that “virtual” is not opposed to “real” but opposed to “actual”, whereas “real” is opposed to “possible”. This definition, which is almost indistinguishable from potential, originates in medieval Scholastics and the Medieval Latin word virtualis. Deleuze identifies the virtual, considered as a continuous multiplicity, with Bergson’s “duration”: “it is the virtual insofar as it is actualized, in the course of being actualized, it is inseparable from the movement of its actualization.”

Virtual and Virtualization
For the philosopher Pierre Lévy, the virtual is not opposed to the real; The concept of the virtual contrasts with the concept of the present. The word virtual comes from the medieval Latin virtualis, which in turn is derived from virtus, which means strength, or power; In philosophy, it is virtual what exists in potential and not in act. For example, the tree is virtually present in the seed.

In Différence et répétition, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze distinguishes the concept of possibility and the concept of virtuality; the possible will be realized without anything changing, in its determination or in its nature, thus being a ghostly “real” (possible). The possible is just like the “real”: it just lacks existence. Realization of a possible is the innovative production of an idea or form. Thus, the difference between possible and real is purely logical.

“Contrary to what is possible, static and already constituted, the virtual is like the problematic complex, the knot of tendencies or forces that accompanies a situation, an event, an object or any entity, and which it calls a resolution process: the update. This problematic complex belongs to the entity under consideration and even constitutes one of its largest dimensions. The problem with the seed, for example, is to sprout a tree. – Pierre Lévy”

The update then appears as a solution to a problem, a solution that was not previously contained in the statement. For example, if the execution of a purely logical computer program has to do with the possible / real pair, the interaction between humans and computer systems has to do with the dialectic of the virtual and the real. Virtualization can be defined as the reverse movement of the update; It consists of a passage from the “current” to the “virtual”, an “elevation to power” of the considered entity. Virtualization is not a derealization (the transformation of a reality into a possible set); virtualizing any entity consists in discovering a general issue to which it relates,

Body virtualization
According to Pierre Lévy the virtualization of the body goes through reconstructions. In extending the wisdoms of the body and the old ways of eating, today we invented a hundred ways to build ourselves, to model ourselves: dietetics, body building, plastic surgery. Perception is externalized by telecommunication systems. Thanks to technologies like cameras, cameras or tape recorders, we can perceive someone else’s sensations at another time and place. The symmetrical function of perception is the projection into the world of both action and image. Each new device adds a genre of skin, a visible body to the current body. The body is turned over like a glove. The interior passes to the exterior while remaining within. Each individual body becomes an integral part of a huge, globalized, hybrid hyperbody. Sports parachutes, hang gliding, bungee jumping, alpine skiing, water skiing, surfing and windsurfing, purely individual, maximize the physical presence here and now. The personal body is the temporary update of a huge hybrid social and technobiological hyperbody. The contemporary body resembles a shining heat that attaches to the public body.

Text virtualization
Pierre Lévy also says the text, since its origin, is a virtual object, abstract, independent of a specific support; it updates itself through reading.

“Such is the work of reading: from an initial linearity or platitude, this act of tearing, crumpling, twisting, recosting the text to open a living medium in which meaning can unfold. The space of meaning does not exist before reading. It is by traversing it, by mapping it that we manufacture it, that we update it. – Pierre Lévy”

For Lévy considers “text” any kind of elaborate speech or deliberate purpose, including diagrams and even iconographic and filmic messages. According to the author, writing has accelerated the process of memory virtualization, that is, its externalization, and hence it cannot be considered a mere record of speech.

The hypertext is not derived from the source text, but from the regulation of the size of nodes or elementary modules, the routing of connections and the structure of the navigation interface. Digital support enables new forms of collective reading and writing. Hypertextual devices constitute a kind of objectification, externalization and virtualization of reading processes. Internet texts are virtually part of a huge and rapidly growing hypertext.

Virtualization Economy
In contemporary times the economy is one of deterritorialization or virtualization. The rising sectors of the virtual economy are telecommunications, computing and the media, as well as physical deterritorialization. Finance is one of the activities of virtualization escalation. Its base currency has unsynchronized and relocated labor, trade and consumption. Information and knowledge are immaterial goods; The information is virtual. With respect to work, two avenues open up to investments to increase their effectiveness: workforce reification through automation or virtualization of skills by devices that increase collective intelligence.

Other concepts
Another core meaning has been elicited by Denis Berthier, in his 2004 book “Méditations sur le réel et le virtuel” (“Meditations on the real and the virtual”), based on uses in science (virtual image), technology (virtual world), and etymology (derivation from virtue—Latin virtus). At the same ontological level as “the possible” (i.e. ideally-possible) abstractions, representations, or imagined “fictions”, the actually-real “material”, or the actually-possible “probable”, the “virtual” is “ideal-real”. It is what is not real, but displays the full qualities of the real—in a plainly actual (i.e., not potential)—way. The prototypical case is a reflection in a mirror: it is already there, whether or not one can see it; it is not waiting for any kind of actualization. This definition allows one to understand that real effects may be issued from a virtual object, so that our perception of it and our whole relation to it, are fully real, even if it is not. This explains how virtual reality can be used to cure phobias. Brian Massumi shows the political implications of this.

However, note that the writers above all use terms such as “possible”, “potential” and “real” in different ways and relate the virtual to these other terms differently. Deleuze regards the opposite of the virtual as the actual. Rob Shields argues that the opposite of the virtual is the material for there are other actualities such as a probability (e.g., “risks” are actual dangers that have not yet materialized but there is a “probability” that they will).

The virtual is far more than a technical or communications term. Martin Luther argued in his writing The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ—Against the Fanatics with other Protestants, most notably Zwingli, over the virtualism of the Christian Eucharist, in alignment with Catholic tradition, that the Eucharist was actually and not virtually the body and blood of Christ.

According to Massumi in “Parables for the Virtual”, the virtual is something “inaccessible to the senses” and can be felt in its effects. His definition goes on to explain virtuality through the use of a topological figure, in which stills of all of the steps in its transformation superposed would create a virtual image. Its virtuality lies in its inability to be seen or properly diagramed, yet can be figured in the imagination.