Meta Mater – Happy Mother’s Day!!!

May 11, 2007

Previously: snow-crash

I have been puzzling over this simple word Meta. Reading ‘Snow Crash’ I made an observation to myself that there is a fiction within a fiction in Neal Stephenson’s book. I was also wondering about fiction in pre-modern times. Back in the days before virtual reality, was the written word in a book of fiction a meta-verse, a virtual reality? In Ancient times, reading is an encoding and decoding process activity that only the privilege few learned. Just as today’s computer decodes the 0, 1, of the fictional world in such environments as Second Life (SL) and others. The protagonist of ‘Snow Crash’, name Hiro Protagonist, spends much of his time sitting in front of his computer logged into the Metaverse, (a term Neal coined to describe virtual reality because the word virtual didn’t fit his need. And I sort of agree, it makes the alternative reality seems less real and cheapens the experience) and interacting in a computer generated environment call the ‘Black Sun’. My observation is that Neal has created a work of fiction of a fiction. And here’s where stranger then fiction occurs, when the reality copies the world of fiction. Meaning, SL was created to mimic the Metaverse that Neal rendered up in his book. There is even a place call the ‘Black Sun’ on SL. There’s also a copy world of Dune, of which I’m a happy citizen of Arraken. I can buy sill suits and walk around in the desert! I teleported into a world where floating orb of the Police scanners scans my virtual body, much like the book of 1984. SL brings another level of experience to reading a work of fiction by inhabiting the Metaverse of the imagined world. On many different levels, the word Meta has many meanings. There’s even a word called Meta fiction to describe a work of fiction which recalls itself. As in ‘Snow Crash’ is a meta-fiction, a fiction within a fiction. It’s gotten my head spinning. I don’t know if what I’m trying to explain is clear.

Meta in Latin means….a copy of itself. A meta-verse is a copy of the universe, as in a virtual facsimile of the real world or universe. It’s interesting that a Latin root word is used to describe a modern technology. The word universe encompass much more then the world. Let’s look at how Neal has generated this Meta Fiction. Firstly, we encounter Hiro Protagonist. Right away we are aware that the character’s name recalls the ingredient of a fiction. Meaning, most fiction has a protagonist although few if any are named Protagonist. Also Hiro, a Japanese name sounding much like the English word Hero, a word play as many protagonists of fictions are heroes of their own world. This simple name device is a self reference to fiction itself. The effect is doubled when the Protagonist spends much of his time in the virtual fictional world of 3d computer animation. I’m aware that I’m reading fiction and the Protagonist is interacting in another form of reality of the virtual kind. It is a Meta fiction within the Metaverse which in and of itself a Meta Fiction.

All this seems a bit of a clever trickery. It is not. The word Meta can throw one off a bit. However, when I look up Metaphysics, thing get a bit clearer as to Mr. Stephenson’s intentions when he coined the word Metaverse to describe the virtual world. (Or as I like to call it ‘Vituality’, combining the words virtual and reality together). (Clever me). Let’s examined or geek out on this word metaphysics in relation to the word Metaverse, or as I like to say let’s get meta-physical wid it!

Wikipedia describes Metaphysics as the branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the ultimate nature of reality, being, and the world.[1] Its name derives from the Greek words μετά (metá) (meaning “after”) and φυσικά (physiká) (meaning “those on nature”), “those on nature” referring to those works on nature by Aristotle in antiquity.[2] Metaphysics addresses questions such as:

  • What is the nature of reality?
  • What is humankind’s place in the universe?
  • Are colors objective or subjective?
  • Does the world exist outside the mind?
  • What is the nature of objects, events, places?

Suddenly, ‘Snow Crash’ has philosophical implications for me. When Aristotle and friends congregate at the Stoa to discuss metaphysics they didn’t have computer generated renderings. So they concentrated on their world of stones. Would the discussion have been any different had it take place in a virtual world? Now that we have virtual worlds like the Sims or SL, it questions reality. “Does the world exist outside the mind?” If the tree fell in the forest would it exist where we are not there to hear it fall? This question alone legitimizes the notion of Metaverse. In other words, the discipline of metaphysics inscribes, and embraces the world of the mind as much if not more then things outside of it. And what is the virtual world but one created from the minds of computer programmers. There for calling it a Metaverse is much more interesting and acknowledges the predecessors, our philosophical forebears who question the world and our place in it. The Metaverse knows that it is a mind creation, and only accessible through such mental activities. A modern time makes another wrinkle in the metaphysics discussion, meaning that in brings up another type of reality.



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