Seeing the world is no longer simply observing it through glasses or telescopes; it is no longer imagining it through scriptural or photographic transpositions, it is no longer simply discovering it through giant, luminous or flat screens; today it is drawing it to oneself, making it virtual, potentially actualizable.
"The lights of our contemporary digital screens are no longer limited to making world events potentially actualizable. They make virtual, this "other reality", this hyperreality, whose construction is facilitated by digital tools. » (Monique Sicard, Hyperlumières, in Séminaire de photographie, École Normale Supérieure, 2001).
For Pascal, the real is what actually exists, independently of ideas and signs.
It is therefore the materiality of the world apprehended by our consciousness. Conceived through the mechanisms of the process of perception, our notion of reality is contingent on our cognitive relationship to the world. This is the reason why Hegel affirms that the real is what is rational. The scientist takes this philosophical support, rationality, to postulate the existence of an autonomous reality. This is what allows Louis de Broglie to underline the existence of a univocal correspondence between the outside world and the image we manage to make of it. (Louis de Broglie, Physics and Microphysics, Albin Michel, 1947).
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However, this idea of scientific objectivity linked to reality must be put into perspective. For Henri Laborit, it is obvious that, when people are confronted with the same event, "each of them sees only what his past, his education, his prejudices, his value judgements have shaped in his skull. » (Henri Laborit, in Actes des journées Réforme de pensée et système éducatif, 14 September 1994).
Reality therefore depends more on how we know what we know, than on what emerges from the object of knowledge. Paul Watzlawick concludes that of all the illusions, the most perilous is to think that there is only one reality: "In fact, what exists are different versions of reality, some of which may be contradictory, and all of which are the effect of COMMUNICATION and not the reflection of objective and eternal truths. » (Paul Watzlawick, La réalité de la réalité, Seuil, 1978).
Thus, reality is an effect of communication.
If we push this logic to its term, it appears that the virtual, as part of an act of communication that is the foundation of reality, cannot be reduced to an illusion or fantasy. Its particularity is to be a potentiality of reality, an INTENTIONALITY, which is realized by the virtue of its own movement. Doesn't Virtual come from the Latin VIRTUS which means force, energy, initial impulse? The virtual is therefore real in action, a reversal of cause and effect. For Philippe Quéau, the virtual is intended to hybridize with the real; there is no antagonism between the two notions, they are two states of a common reality, one more palpable and the other more projected, symbolized and imagined. (Cf.: Philippe Quéau, Le virtuel, op.cit.).
Nevertheless, we cannot simply say that the virtual is a new form of representation of the real, in the continuity of the parietal painters of the Magdalenian, those of the Quattrocento or the artists of the Cubist movement. Representing has long corresponded, with varying degrees of freedom - one thinks of Abraham Moles' "scale of iconicity" - to the translation of a double of something existing. For some authors (Cf.: Claude Cadoz, Les réalités virtuelles, Flammarion, 1994).The computer would only be a means of representation, certainly the most universal that man has developed, but in the continuity of other means, such as drawing, painting or photography. To think in this way is to rely solely on functionality and not on the nature of the virtual.
The virtual is, in part, the result of several major technological steps in the process of building computer imagery.
Computer graphic images are produced using symbolic languages and thus constitute models of visible representations of abstract conceptual forms calculated by computer from mathematical formulae. (Véronique Fava-Natali, Le rapport réel/virtuel, Séminaire Écrit, image et nouvelles technologies, Université de Paris VII, 1994).
These images thus introduce a new relationship between language and image, which Philippe Quéau does not hesitate to describe as a "scriptural revolution": the readable engenders the visible, the visible image resulting from a matrix of numbers. From the point of view of History, these images constitute a rupture because they do not proceed from an interaction between light and a sensitive surface, whether it be that of the photograph or that of the retina of the painter's eye. The virtual image is not only the image of something, it is its own reality, it absorbs the reality within it.
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