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Simulation and Virtuality

Sean Cubitt


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The term simulation and its cognate simulacrum have a venerable history as the Latin translations of the Platonic eidolon . This is a copy of a copy, exemplified in Plato's Republic by a painting of a bed: the carpenter's bed is a copy of the Ideal; the painter's a copy of the carpenter's, and so at a distant remove from the reality of the Idea. The term virtual is almost as ancient, traceable to the Aristotelian distinction between potential and actual: the future is a field of infinite potential until it is realized, at which point it trades its potentiality for actuality. Both terms have double usages in contemporary social science, as theoretical tools and as descriptions of specific methods, both associated with computer modeling. Simulation theory is most closely associated with French sociologist Jean Baudrillard. From his early work on consumerism to his first major books, The Mirror of Production (1973) and Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), Baudrillard voiced the despair of his generation with the betrayal of the political movements of 1968. Drawing on the situationist Guy Debord's theory of the spectacle and on the renegade surrealist Georges Bataille's notion of symbolic economies, Baudrillard began to query the reality of an increasingly mediated world. Rather than a composite formation of individual or class actors, society was a self-replicating Code, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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