Re: PHIL -- Culture vs. Language, Species

Gavin Nicol (
Tue, 28 Mar 1995 13:16:29 -0500

>First of all, I think there is a misunderstanding among us about the use
>of VR to get around the language barrier. Some of us are saying that it
>will work well, since we don't have to use words, other are saying that
>the meanings will still not get across, because of the differences in
>culture. I tend to be one of the former.


>I am having trouble with this culture thing. I understand that someone may
>not know what a house, or a car is. I also understand that I will probably
>not recognize the foreign culture's replacements for the things I find
>familiar. The part I have trouble with is the question: "Isn't a car still
>going to be a car, no matter what the cultural background of the
>observer?" I mean, if I'm walking down a virtual beach with a frisbee in
>my hand, and I meet an Aboriginal, is he going to expect to see a
>boomerang in my hand? Maybe it's important that he sees a frisbee, so
>that he knows he has to ask me what it is, and I can then show him.

This "culture thing" is necessarily a reflection of reality. VR, while
enabling the creation of an infinite number of environments (or worlds
if you prefer), has an intrinsic limit in that people need to
understand the environment in order to manipulate or even to
participate in it. This covers many, many things, including object
representation, but it can be as subtle as the seating positions in a
room, the colors used, etc. Human society is an extraordinarily
complicated thing, and the effects of a society upon the people
thereof are still not well understood. People often suffer culture
shock when they travel overseas, and I certainly think VR-shock(tm)
will be common in cyberspace... or at least initially. I think you
will see an interesting evolution taking place in the environments
people create as they are adapted to make "living in cyberspace" more
natural. This phenomenon is extremely interesting to note in the
evolution of the Internet in general.

Humans, more than anything else, need to interact with other
humans. This instinct, and the instinct for invention/tool-using, are
probably two of the most fundamental forces driving us all.

As such, I tend to agree with your overall thrust: develop a flexible
infrastructure, make it freely available, and the rest is as natural a

This is coming from a sociologist (my major) not a hacker (my
profession, my hobby). One of the greatest pleasures in life is to
travel, and to observe. I have been living in Japan for going on 10
years, and I still find many little differences in thinking that
reflect an entirely different underlying view of the
world. Fascinating stuff indeed!