Keynote: Johnny Søraker – V(x) vs. R(x) – Meaning, Relationships and Well-Being in Virtual Worlds

V(x) vs. R(x) – Meaning, Relationships and Well-Being in Virtual Worlds

Whether my life fares well or not seems inextricably related to whether the states of affairs that contribute to my well-being are real or not. Thus, we are constantly exposed to and troubled by claims of unreality: Is this real love? Get a real life! What is my real identity? Is she a real friend? Am I escaping my real obligations? Is there really a God? We are either relieved or disappointed when a particularly lifelike dream turned out not to be real, or by realizing that a particular state of affairs turned out not to be true after all.

When so much of our lives and well-being is tied up with concerns and claims about reality, it should come as no surprise that the impact of virtuality on our lives is a controversial topic. Indeed, philosophers, policy makers, researchers and journalists often make claims to the effect that wasting one’s life on virtual surrogates for the real thing amounts to being bereaved of what real life has to offer; that virtual worlds, entities and experiences might give immediate gratification, but not deliver the kind of authentic happiness that a life engaged with reality can offer. In this lecture, I will discuss to what extent virtual worlds and entities are “real”, whether the things we regard as meaningful in life (e.g. relationships) can be replaced by virtual surrogates, and more generally how virtual environments of various sorts can affect our well-being. The lecture will be grounded in both philosophy, ethics and (positive) psychology.



Dr. Johnny Hartz Søraker is Assistant Professor of Philosophy of technology at the Department of Philosophy, University of Twente. He defended his PhD cum laude at the same department, dealing mainly with the epistemology, ontology and ethics of virtual worlds, with a particular focus on their potential impact on personal well-being. Søraker’s main research interests and publications lie in the intersections between Information Technology (esp. virtual worlds and games), on the one hand and both theoretical and practical philosophy, on the other. He often grounds his work in psychological research, especially work in the field of Positive Psychology and is developing this toward a comprehensive methodology entitled “Prudential-Empirical Ethics of Technology (PEET)”. As a hobby project, he is also the host and producer of {SuchThatCast | Behind the philosophy}, which is a podcast consisting of informal conversations with inspiring philosophers.