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Simulacra and Simulation (wikipedia.org)
135 points by vermilingua 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments

At the time I read this I mostly understood his themes through the lens of mass production and product/lifestyle marketing, to some degree an extension of Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class and conspicuous consumption as class identity.

Lately I have begun thinking about this book again particularly in the context of Covid and the 2020 U.S. election, where the pandemic has made apparent the inability of our institutions to serve their functions (e.g. for the CDC to prepare and stockpile supplies in the event of a rare mass pandemic) or for either party to offer any authenticity behind their expressed purposes ("draining the swamp" by intensifying the culture of corruption in D.C. or helping Main Street through massive Wall Street bailouts). These institutions and parties are essentially emulating the familiar principles of the past while operating by the power structures that have captured them. We seem to take it for granted.

Baudrillard’s point was beyond this - that Capitalist media technologies create a hyperreal blanket over everything such that these institutions are fully consumed by movement within its symbolic exchange that they lose what we would commonly think of as their “use value.”

Is it not possible to express these ideas in ordinary language?

For instance, is anything lost by instead saying:

Capitalist media companies powered by modern technology are incentivized by profit motive to distort their portrayal of reality.

Specifically, their portrayals will paint a picture of reality more enticing than the real thing; this is self-evident since their revenue is tied directly to 'enticement'.

Once this fictional portrayal has been established and enough people believe in it, later fictional events of the fictional world may become as significant as actual events.

So, institutions affected by capitalist media portrayal will adjust their valuation of potential actions to take this into account. As a result, their behavior will deviate from its traditional role in the context of our real society when it can benefit more by playing a role in the fictional media-created portrayal of the world.


Of course the original version is shorter and sounds cooler, but it's also far more vague and will only be comprehensible to a much smaller subset of the audience here.

What bothers me especially is the original expression's framing in terms of an alternate reality. What does that add? It can't just be fiction but has to be 'hyperreal'? I get it, it's a particular type of fiction so it's more specific than that. The intention is probably like the sense in which a cartoon avatar of a woman with exaggerated curves might be called 'hyperreal'.

And I realize I'm revealing my own philosophical commitments here by suggesting there is a single shared reality to begin with, and I realize the author does not share this stance—but I mean... this is not a community of philosophers: why implicitly adopt a stance which won't be shared 99% of readers as the base framing if there is any legitimate interesting in communication here? I could understand if it were actually necessary to communicate the core idea, but it does not appear to be so.

This was a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

The channel "Cuck Philosophy" on YT has a great explanation of both The Matrix and American Psycho using Baudrillard's theories found in "Simulacra and Simulation".

The Matrix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bf9J35yzM3E American Psycho: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJfurfb5_kw

I've watched both and really enjoyed them. Good recommendations.

Rumor is that the Directors of Martix were so influenced by this book that every Cast member was supposed to read it.

If I’m not mistaken, the hollowed out book in which Neo keeps his illegal floppy disk is Simulacra and Simulation.

It is, however, they were Mini Disc not floppies.

I really wished for some years Mini Disc took off, I loved it as a format; compact, rewritable, protected, storage capacity of a CD.

that’s correct

This concept was introduced to me and explained in simple terms by a car review out of all things:


There's more where this came from because the duo behind this channel are both English majors.

Hahaha! When you said "car review" I was like "what car is a simulacra... FJ cruiser?". Called it! It's like a confused Japanese clone of something that never existed and no one wanted. Like a horrible mashup of TLC + Jeep + Hummer + Subaru

Truly it's the movie subtitles translated via Google Translate of cars.

Great description. Made me think of the other thread I was reading on corporate bonds vs. corporate bond ETFs.

I notice two things about this:

1. The language contains so many obscure words that the intent is unclear. I personally think that if you cannot convey your ideas in simple language you have failed at communication. That goes for philosophers, mathematicians and engineers (of which I am one).

2. There seems to be an unstated assumption the reality we construct, examples including culture and society, are somehow less meaningful or less real than... the real world. But he does not clearly define what this "real world" is. And he's using the term "real" in odd enough ways, that I'm not sure what was meant. Perhaps the exploration of this assumption is what the book is driving at. I would find that a fascinating discussing, if it wasn't couched in such mystical sounding language.

Disclaimer: I have not read the book, only the article.

I’ve seen Baudrillard compared to something like science fiction for philosophy. The style is intentionally cranked up to 11, in order to communicate a point that’s actually pretty subtle and hard to pin down: what happens when the map replaces the territory.

That’s not to say he’s necessarily a great writer... but there really is meat on the bone.

>I personally think that if you cannot convey your ideas in simple language you have failed at communication

Not everything can be explained using simple language. Try explaining monads in simple language, or ontology.

This video explains some of Baudrillard's concepts in a pretty clear way: https://youtu.be/9zEtalr5pEA

>Perhaps the exploration of this assumption is what the book is driving at. I would find that a fascinating discussing

Alas it is not

A bit longer but here's another video that covers some of Baudrillard's concepts, in more of a lecture form but much easier to digest than Baudrillard's writing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2U9WMftV40c

From what I understand, having read parts of the book, is that he is making the discernment between Reality As It Really Exists and Reality As We Say It Really Exists. The first reality is something that Kant wrote about in depth, I believe. And the second reality is what Baudrillard was exploring in this book.

An example of where he was going is one of the first things he describes about the difference: countries think that they gain power by having nuclear weapons - the capability to attack and defend. But the actual reality turned out to be the opposite - nuclear armed countries became handicapped through stalemate.

So by not knowing the actual reality, they operated in a simulation of reality, or simulacrum, and ended up with results that they didn’t necessarily expect at the time.

IIRC, Kant said that "true" reality is unknowable. Our faculties for understanding reality are constrained by constructs like space and time, and so any truth about reality that lays beyond those constructs is likewise beyond our grasp.

I'm not sure what poststructuralists in general have to say about "true" reality. I take your word about what Baudrillard was getting it (it fits with what I've read about his writing and his activism, and the one or two essays of his I've read), but the legacy of poststructuralism--the body of thought unified by the notion that the reality we experience is socially constructed and arguably "arbitrary"--is a skepticism and even cynicism about the existence of objective truth. Poststructuralism didn't invent skepticism toward or rejection of objective truth, but they gave it an embodiment that at least superficially fits into our modern scientific age.

I have read Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism", written around the same time as "Simulcra and Simulation" but arising in a completely different scholarly niche (international politics). IMO, it provides a more descriptivist, concrete explication of constructed social spaces and how we conflate them with "reality". After reading "Imagined Communities" you easily buy into the basic thesis that culture imbues our physical space with meaning and substance, often completely subsuming whatever "objectively real" characteristics we might use to describe things or events. And so it's easier to see where Baudrillard is coming from. But it's also easier to see where Baudrillard and other French poststructuralists go off the rails with unnecessary claims and conclusions. Notwithstanding the diversity in claims, they all basically seem to turn what Anderson deftly makes a trivial and obvious (in hindsight) observation into a pretense affirming their own personal beliefs--for example, tired and entirely predictable continental leftist ideas about the class struggle.

Thanks for that reply - it is much appreciated.

It's a great book, although some of it is very much of its time in terms of political references.

The basic idea is very simple - our society is being organized economically, politically and socially according to models, and the effects of those models are being measured by those implementing them through polling and other indirect methods.

This means that what we experience in everyday life is structured according to models that have drifted away from whatever they were meant to model originally over time. And that these groundless illusions are where what looks like politics is taking place.

There's more but that's the gist of it.

I think you miss the scale of the topic. He’s not just talking about politics, but our entire culture.

An instance of the main concepts presented by Baudrillard: The incessant coverage of the Gulf War by cable news. One could watch 24/7 coverage of fighter jets dodging anti-air and imperial palaces exploding. The key point is that the immersion was total. From the comfort of your couch, how could you claim that this is not essentially war? And yet its absolutism misses the mark completely, obfuscating the true reality that is more horrible and generally incomprehensible.

I wonder when people will be allowed to draw the same parallels with Coronavirus.

Is it not already happening with our “Reopening the Economy” triumphalism after demonstrating ourselves to be a failed state by most measures? Healthcare workers dying for lack of basic equipment, in the richest country in the world, while our leaders project supreme control of the situation across the airwaves.

The Pandemic Never Happened.

There are two opposite mindsets you can take to a book like this.

One is to approach it like the book owed you something concrete. Like a calculus 101 textbook or worse yet, "Javascript the good parts". But if you approach anything sufficiently interesting (take a more advanced math book -- the "Baby Rudin" analysis textbook) like this you're going to be frustrated.

This is also the mindset of people who look at drip or color field paintings and think (or worse, say out loud!) that their toddler niece could have done this! Without even trying to see the painting.

There's also the narcissistic variation of this: the book apparently says some things that don't agree with your fundamental engineering-ly view of reality therefore what a charlatan. Imagine being a serious Christian who is this intolerant of eg. Buddhist literature.

The alternate mindset is that of an open mind willing to engage with the open-ended. It's very well possible that your pragmatic engineer worldviews are naïve to countless aspects you're even unable to think about right now. This doesn't mean you have to trade away your identity as a whatever you think you are to engage with different ideas.

Another podcast about this subject. He points that social networks can be described as a simulations. Two persons can be physically at the same place looking to their phones into totally different realities. https://philosophizethis.org/simulacra-and-simulation/

Which is why “fake news” or conspiracies are a big thing now. People are already detached from reality, where facts don’t matter, everything is narrative.

I think that crying "fake news" and theorizing about conspiracies are a desperate attempt to call out and see past the simulacra. An example of simulacra would be Keeping up With the Kardashians - a representation of someone else's life that is not their actual life (there is no possible way that it could be their actual life, even if it was a 24 hour livestream, simply because of the fact that it is being delivered through a screen), same thing with social media. A conspiracy theory about the show could be "this is only being shown to me to make me want to buy makeup". The conspiracy theory is just an attempt to discover some aspect - however small - of the simulation that is based in reality, rather than just buying into the simulation at face value. Of course, conspiracy theories are usually spread through the same medium (a screen) so they are just as simulated as the other simulated content.

I don't think we should be discouraging people from trying to unveil the simulacra regardless. Imagine a world where everyone believed every piece of news as absolutely true. We'd still have a geocentric model of our solar system. As long as I can hear vocal disagreement about what is true, I can sleep at night knowing that some progress is being made.

Yeah, but the solution is to be skeptical, not get lost in your own conspiracy theories. If you’re not skeptical you get manipulated any direction.

Similar and older conceptual framework:


with links to many other similar and older concepts of the same...

edit: now playing Imagination - Just an Illusion (1982) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnfHdZrmMAw (4min4sec)

> In Vedas, Puranas and Tamil classics

> The term māyā occurs 70 times in Rigveda and around 27 times in the Atharvaveda; and in all these places Yaska, Sayana, Dayananda Saraswati agree the term means Prajñā, jnana-vishesha (specific knowledge). The term Asuri-Maya in the Yajurveda at one place was translated by Uvvat as the "knowledge of the vital air". With regard to the usage of the word Maya in the Rigveda, Radhakrishnan opines it was only used to signify might and power. Maya as the cause of illusion or as the sense of Avidya (lack of knowledge) has never been used in the Vedas. According to Monier Williams, Maya meant wisdom and extraordinary power in an earlier language, but later the word came to mean illusion and magic.

So, depending, "Maya" can mean "illusion" or "mirage", but the original meaning might be closer to Prajñā, which means "non-discriminating knowledge" or "intuitive apprehension". According to Chan and most Zen lines, those "states" of consciousness are obtained by practicing non-clinging discrimination in a given moment. Maybe one way of thinking about this is not adding to the observation of something that has been discriminated already.

Chan texts mention holding vexation and the polar observations of the vexation (good vs. evil or light vs. darkness as examples) without "adding" to the metaphor. The "adding" is the part that can be considered important (to not do). Consider the highly polarized topics that result from unfettered discourse on the Internet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc

"Sitting with the rock is wet" without wondering how much longer it is going to rain.

Or, observing an imagined (in mind) scenario without "adding to it" in the moment that it is being perceived.

That is not clear to me, since i can't imagine that :)

edit: by that i mean having that "neuroarchitecture" which just percieves, but can't imagine anything(visually). Reminds me of the relatively recent (6 months to a year ago?) discussions about not having an internal voice while thinking, which was obviously new to a large set of people, while my whole state of mind revolves around thinking without vocalizing. Alas, i digress...

Hardly a digression when discussing the path to cessation of suffering.

Liberation of vibration (sound) must occur before liberation of form (images). Nobel effort spans lifetimes.


I think i wrongly described what i meant with while my whole state of mind revolves around thinking without vocalizing. and you thereby understood it as i'd try to achieve that. That isn't the case. I simply don't have it! While i have that whole "Palace of the Mind/Method of Loci" thing, that's not the whole thing either. I'd say it is on a lower level, and even below that is the language, and whenever i need to write or speak, there happens to be some sort of hyperdimensonal self-solving Tetris in fast-forward mode which gives me the words in the languages i happen to know in an instant, readily formed to write or speak. But without an inner voice speaking them first. I can't do it any different. That would be exhausting.

^is the book turned into a book safe in The Matrix. Early in the movie, Neo pulls a mini-disk out of it to sell to his Mescaline-referencing friends, one of whom has the white rabbit tattoo.

I'm not an expert on this sort of thing, but it's funny how in the film The Matrix is kind of like Plato's cave rather than Baudrillard's idea. The Matrix "not real" and can be overcome by the protagonists, but I feel like Baudrillard would suggest that the protagonists wouldn't be able to tell what was and what wasn't.

Baudrillard himself was even more dismissive. He argued that 'the matrix' was the kind of film that the matrix would make, and that the film deeply misunderstood his ideas by drawing such a sharp distinction between the real and the representation.

This was solved in the sequels. The real world in the first movie turns out to be just another layer of the matrix. You can try to peel back these layers but you can never know when you’ve reached the centre of the onion. Thus the real and the representation have been blurred together completely.

Bingo. The irony of the Matrix is that “reality” turns out to be... a generic heroic fantasy story. Just more layers of reference and representation.

Annoyingly, I was never able to find a copy with the same binding and cover as was in the film. It was probably doctored up as a prop but I thought it might be amusing to have.

I thought the book "Philosophy and Simulation" by Manuel de Landa did a really great job of tying together some threads around simulation and it's connection to reality. I haven't read Simulacra but it seems like Baudrillard has gone too far in the direction that French philosophy loves to go by claiming we have cannot have any connection "the real". While an amusing idea it just doesn't match up to our lived experience.

Have you ever shot a firearm? Have you ever played a video game where you shot a firearm? Given some assumptions of your demographic, based on your being here, this example should illustrate the issue Baudrillard foresaw in comprehending 'the real' in modernity.

A truly terrible book through and through. The best chapter is his review of JG Ballards "Crash".

Jean Baudrillard is the worst kind of intellectual charlatan and I am surprised to see folks around here who don't see that.

Actually Baudrillard, the gulf war DID happen. The phenomenon that he identifies in books like this (Tv news tries to show you an illusion instead of the truth) don't need post-modernist mystical explanations.

Who decides whether the gulf war happened?

International coverage, soldiers in the war, etc.

Not an easy book to read, but very interesting ideas. I've put it down twice after trying to get through it, but do plan on eventually finishing it.

There is a Philosophize This! episode which is quite a good introduction to Baudrillard's ideas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCgoKIT0Ufc&t=109s

A useful overview of the subject which amde much more sense to me: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/fEX7G2N7CtmZQ3eB5/simulac...

The article has a much clearer explanation of the ideas than the book itself. It was too hard to finish reading. What stood out even more than the ideas, were the method of thinking and the writing style. Diving into the original text even for several pages gives a different perspective.

Another book I heard about from the Matrix behind the scenes was Out of Control by Kevin Kelly. It was pretty interesting to read especially in the context of machine learning now days. Its hard to believe that it was written in 1994. I was only in high school at the time but I could hardly put it down. I still would like to find more books that interested me that much. The reference to bees on the cover is that a simple bee has little intelligence but the a hive mind has much more.

I read Simulacra and Simulation after hearing about it related to the Matrix. It was a bit hard to follow and I lost interest.

Out of Control was the right book in the right place at the right time. Time has moved on, and the book is kind of stuck there, which in a way is a good thing in that it allows us to go back and see all the 'possibility' of the future in the book from where we have ended up.

How much control did/do we have anyway, and how much did we have back then?

Actually Pewdiepie made a video about this book and its relation to Matrix, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBwJF75wZnw

I attempted to read this book some years ago, the writing is very nearly incomprehensible.

It's fun to see that most of the people here know only about the book because it appears in the Matrix (myself included).

Whenever I read philosophers like Baudrillard or that share similar ideas, I can't help it but to see their thesis for very complex, very elaborate and very ornate systems of epicycles around the concept of value.

A lot of them don't even acknowledge the assumption that there's intrinsic value, and just run with it, with expected results. From Marxism multipliers of labor to simulacra, to me it just sounds like constructions to avoid the idea of value being an emergent property.

It's not mentioned expressly in the article (there's just a link to the movie), but the book is briefly to be seen in The Matrix. Neo uses it to stash cash and warez.

I remember reading about this, and being just astonished how many significant details the Wachovskis hid in those movies, even if they were only visible for a second or two.

I really enjoy all Matrix movies. I recently rewatched them and in parallel read and watched all the essays by v/bloggers I could find. Here's a few take-aways:

1) According to mainstream (I disagree), the sequels dropped the ball. It's somewhat popular to make fun of the Matrix movies that are not the first.

2) There's a lot of symbolism in the movies, and it's not less important than the superficial layer. You could say it makes up a second-layer in the movies, and if you don't get it you're missing part of the content.

3) The first movie referenced Baudrillard a lot, but it didn't (fully) follow Baudrillard's philosophy, as Baudrillard himself has said. To be more specific (but simplistic), Baudrillard's work that was referenced represented a supplantation of Plato's allegory of the cave, but The Matrix in many ways is an illustration of Plato's allegory, reaching Plato's conclusions, not Baudrillard's. Baudrillard was approached to work on the sequels, but rejected it.

4) The badly-received Matrix sequels examined non-western philosophies (which are hardly familiar to mainstream audiences). The well-received first The Matrix movie examined the ever-so-familiar Plato's allegory and Christian themes. The sequels broached a lot of new ground and required intellectual effort; the first movie by comparison was easy watching.

5) Some people think that The Matrix has badly aged CGI (not me).

Regarding 4, the dialog and plotting of the sequels seemed to build only on the flaws of the original. That some of that dialog was monolog about different philosophical themes was a problem, but the problem was the monolog not the philosophy.

I took it that the monologues were a problem because they were confusing to people. They serve as a major bridge between what I called the superficial and symbolic layers. For example the dialogue/monologue with the architect was great. I found it very stimulating, but most bloggers made fun of it.

Warez on minidiscs [1], even! And long before Hi-MD, which suggests some kind of acoustic steganography resilient to ATRAC compression.

For all the interest that went into Simulacra among the writing and production crew, I feel like it's not without significance, accidental or otherwise, that that was the book selected to be hollowed out for Neo's shelf safe, to have its substance removed in order to make a place for the stuff of the movie moment in which it appeared...

[1] https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/c_fill,f_a...

It was preceded by Strange Days (1995) - which no doubt contributed to that moment in the film.

For a point of view of Baudrillard about matrix:


I remember from some behind-the-scenes footage that the Wachowskis (the two directors) had asked studio execs and the actors to read it fully before they even started reading the script for The Matrix

baudrillard was not particularly amused by that placement: https://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/24/opinion/editorial-observe...

I'm not surprised. You don't need to look very far into The Matrix, and especially into the trilogy as a whole, to find what amounts to a direct refutation of Baudrillard's thesis in Simulacra.

More than that, the book was required reading for principal cast and crew.

But then, they cut the heart of the book out to stash warez.

Cheers! I remember pausing here and there to read little details like this and really appreciating the richness in that movie.

It's a shame the visuals don't hold up well.

Which visuals don't hold up well? The Matrix's? In my opinion they hold up marvelously. It's the actual content of the movie that has become an overused cliche by now... (it' still enjoyable anyway, in my opinion).

The scene that sticks in my mind the most is the neo vs. smiths staff fight scene. Appears to referred to as the burly brawl on youtube.

But, when I saw it I thought it looked bad, and I haven't watched the movie since release. So it's not that it hasn't aged well, at release I remember being thinking it was bad. Going back and watching the clip again I'm ambivalent. Maybe it's supposed to look like that? But it looks like a cartoon. It's a good "looking" scene but about every 5 seconds the character's motion is jarringly strange. Sometimes it's rubbery and haha funny, and I respect that to a degree. Like it's supposed to lighten the mood maybe? But sometimes it is just distracting.

Ah! I just watched it. The CGI from the staff part looks bad, agreed. The whole scene though looks pretty good, a homage to fight scenes from some Hong Kong flicks. I hope you're not implying there's anything bad with Hong Kong action flicks ;)

Besides some bad CGI like the staff fight, Matrix still has many awesome scenes with SFX that have aged pretty well, though.

One movie whose bad CGI is painful to see is The Lord of the Rings. Once you notice how bad the tiny "dolls" running around Moria look, you just cannot unsee it. And that cave troll and Legolas fight... :( A shame because when LotR did actual makeup and practical effects, they were awesome.

heh, no. And I think some of the humorous to me "bowling ball" like effects that I don't like in that scene are very much in the spirit of some hk movies. But I think the homage tries to add interest by being over the top, when a crowd of 10 actors with different bodies and approaches to doing the scene is going to be more interesting. But that isn't what the plot calls for.

Yeah, the trope Seinfeld is Unfunny even lists The Matrix halfway down the page: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/SeinfeldIsUnfunny/Liv...

Fun fact: The Matrix producers tried to get Baudrillard to consult them for the sequels but he refused

Well, The Matrix Reloaded taught me about nmap...

Congratulations to anyone for whom this makes the slightest bit of sense. I'm sadly missing whatever part of the brain is needed to understand what philosophers are going on about.

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