VRLA co-founder Cosmo Scharf talks about some of the deepest levels of our current socio-political and economic context, and how VR & AR can teach us that our beliefs and perception of reality is malleable. Cosmo says that we’re suffering form a values system disorder, and that our culture currently values money over community, culture, education, and our relationship to the planet. He talks about alternative solutions around a resource-based economy, Ubuntu contributionism, and universal basic income, and how virtual and augmented realities can help cultivate a context for the evolution of values and worldviews.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So this past weekend I went to Bakersfield, California, because there was an XR Hackathon that I was invited to come to and speak at. And they also had a number of different speakers come up from LA to be able to present to the students there at the California State University at Bakersfield. And Cosmo Sharf is one of the co-founders of VRLA. He's also a co-founder of Mindshow. And he came up and, you know, it was a hackathon. So usually at a hackathon, you're talking about like how to use the technology and much more low level. But Cosmo came in and his talk was like the deepest, highest level context of what's happening in the world today. I wanted to feature this interview just because there is quite a lot that's happening in the world today. And anybody who is working in the immersive industry, in some ways, has to come up with a story that they tell themselves, which is, how is this technology that we're working on, how does that contextualize to what is happening in the world today? And I think Cosmo came in, and he's trying to answer that in this talk. And hopefully, within the next month or so, the video will be available and you can watch his full presentation, which I think is worth watching. But I tried to, as best as I could, to have this conversation with Cosmo to be able to extract out the deeper messages that he was trying to give in his talk at this XR Hackathon. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Cosmo happened on Saturday, October 27, 2018 at the California State University Bakersfield XR Hackathon in Bakersfield, California. So with that, let's go ahead and Dive right in.
[00:01:48.281] Cosmo Scharf: Hi, so my name is Cosmo Scharf, and I'm one of the co-founders of VRLA, which is one of the world's largest expos for VR and AR, as well as one of the co-founders of Mindshow, which is an app that lets you create interactive cartoons by puppeteering virtual avatars, and it is free on Steam right now, so you can check it out. So you asked what was sort of the inspiration for the speech and for a while I was very kind of squarely focused within virtual reality especially a few years ago where I was really obsessed and excited about this technology and I was very much on the transhumanist train wanting to get the the brain in the chip, or the chip in the brain. Somehow I always get this screwed around. And I thought that VR was really the only avenue to experience these crazy, next-level, amazing experiences. where you can become other characters and animals and you can fly and that was really exciting to me and I think that that was what attracted to me was these infinite possibilities. And what happened was VR was really this doorway, this portal into a world that allows you to experience all of these amazing things without a headset, actually. and I've had some experiences myself that have led me to believe that or to know rather that you know, there's a much more reality than meets the eye and Through that I've went down and am currently in a pretty deep rabbit hole of learning about things related to consciousness and UFOs and extraterrestrials and ancient civilizations and all kinds of occult, weird things that you might find on the internet, as one does. And there's lots of... Turns out there's a lot of really crazy, interesting, fascinating, mind-blowing stuff that you can learn about through videos and through articles. So I've been researching all these kinds of topics and have been synthesizing all this combined with some of the things that are happening in our world today and realizing that we're not really as free as we believe ourselves to be. So my speech addressed some of these themes and presented some ideas for how we could actually create a world that works for everyone instead of just, you know, a select few.
[00:04:33.183] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. It was an interesting talk just in the context of we're here at a hackathon at a college in Bakersfield, California. It's kind of in the middle of nowhere. We both were here giving talks. And I feel like usually in a hackathon, it's very pragmatic. Like, let's get Unity out. Let's start making stuff. And you kind of came in with the deepest level of context of what is happening in the world today. It's in some ways tuning into the deep tensions and polarization and just crazy stuff that we have in our world. I mean, it does feel like we're racing towards some sort of breaking point of our civilization and yet we're in the midst of doing this amazing technology while the world around us seems to be crumbling in different ways. And I feel like you were trying to really contextualize as much as you can the deepest dynamics of power and wealth and control and ecology and what's at stake and that I think, to me, there does seem like we're at some sort of paradigm shift. And I've certainly gone through many rabbit holes in my life of watching internet videos or conspiracy theories or different things. And maybe I'll sort of reference a dream that you had this morning. I don't know if you want to talk about that. Yeah, maybe you can describe what your dream is and we can unpack it.
[00:05:49.964] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, absolutely. So I had several dreams last night. The one that I just remembered was I was about to smoke a joint with Bill Clinton. And at first he walked away, but then he came back, and we were about to do it, and then I woke up. And I was talking to him, and I was like, what the hell?
[00:06:11.331] Kent Bye: And you told me that, and I was like, well, what does Bill Clinton represent to you?
[00:06:14.212] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, and then I got into the whole reptilian thing. But anyway, I think you had a good interpretation of it that I didn't really come to, that I was glad he kind of picked on.
[00:06:24.427] Kent Bye: Well, I think, so what I see with all of these things of conspiracies or economics or large systems is that we all are living at this cross section between fate and free will. And there's certain aspects of our lives that are fated to us. A lot of those things that are fated are dimensions of culture, dimensions of the economy, dimensions of these wealth and power structures, things that are beyond any one individual's impact. And I think that the allure of conspiracy theories is to say, yeah, the system's rigged and there's a bunch of people that are conspiring to basically use their wealth and power to be able to exert control over the society. And I think that there's certainly dimensions of that that are true from the context of just how systems work. Now, the degree to which there are like these hidden control groups that are controlling everything with a lot of direct intention, I think is a bit of an open question as to what that exactly looks like. But I think everybody can kind of agree that there's certain dynamics of the economy and wealth and power that are in place that are putting these different power structures on us. And I think that what you were trying to, to some way, symbolically do is just bring that into the conversation saying, hey, all these things are happening. There's a lot of stuff that is happening. And one quote that you had that really stuck out was the one that said that, you know, we all have a smile on our face, but there's some sadness in your eyes. And I feel like there's a bit of that, like there's some deep inequality and just shit that's going down in our world today.
[00:07:55.304] Cosmo Scharf: Absolutely. So we have this facade that we project that everything is okay. We have the smile on our face, but deep down something is wrong. And what is that, right? That is what we're trying to get to the bottom of and hopefully correct. One of the things I talk about in the speech is this notion of a value system disorder. And essentially, we unfortunately value money over human health. And that has manifested so many problems in our world today. And correcting that is the fundamental thing that needs to be addressed.
[00:08:36.683] Kent Bye: Yeah, I run into that a lot just because I do a podcast. It's information. It's journalism. I'm giving away information. It's education. And yet, the business models around that function in our society are really broken. It's really hard for me to do what I do because there's not an existing financial institutions or support that people value it just because it's something that we give away for free. But Bernard Glatier has this differentiation between yang currency and yin currency. And he says that yang currency promotes individuation and competition, and the yin currency promotes cooperation, collaboration. So a yin currency is that the more you give away of it, the more you get. So information is a form of yang currency. So the more that I give away information, the more people want to give me information. So it's additive in that way. The same thing with love, the same thing with like open source. But there's some currencies that are resource constrained, so that the more you give away, the less you have. And I think the challenge is that we have a society that's completely run by the yuan currency, anything that can be turned into a number. And that anything that can't be turned into a number is a more qualitative aspects that are more yin currency. And that to me, it's not that we get rid of one or the other and have just all of one, but we try to find a balance between those two.
[00:09:51.678] Cosmo Scharf: I think that's a really important point that you brought up earlier, right? Like, how do we find this balance between competition and collaboration? And perhaps it's not all of one, but maybe a combination of both. And ultimately, though, I do think that we need to rethink the value of competition. We have this notion that competition is good for business. Well, if everyone's competing against each other for jobs or for resources, And we're just going to completely destroy this planet, which is what is happening right now. So in our dream of dreams, right, if like we could all work together to solve our greatest problems instead of having to be off in our little silos within our companies, I would imagine that the rate at which we are able to innovate as a species would go up dramatically.
[00:10:44.342] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things that, I used to work at Puppet, they do IT automation. And so they would go into these different enterprise companies and they would have all these existing systems that were there. And the big challenge was the metaphor of the green field versus the brown field. And the green field is, it's a brand new system, you can build it from scratch and it's just put it on top of what's already there to the side and that you're able to create a parallel system and you're able to innovate and do the best architecture that you can possibly do. But most of the time, that's not the case. You have to deal with what's already there with the legacy system. And it's the brownfield where you have to kind of deal with the existing structures and systems that are already there. And how do you deal with that? And I feel like that's a bit of what we have right now is we have these legacy systems that are really broken. And I feel like augmented reality, virtual reality, cryptocurrencies, we might be able to prototype some completely new greenfield systems just to see what's possible. But then a migration strategy of our existing systems is something that is a very difficult and challenging problem to how to go from where we're at now into this sort of new system.
[00:11:46.563] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, that's a really good metaphor. I really like that. So that hits the nail on the head, right? How do you possibly overcome the tremendous inertia that is gathered around these financial institutions or really any other institution that we have today in America or the world? And we know that there's something broken with them. Yet we all somehow agree to it and it works, kind of, for some people. But the problem is that it works at the expense of a lot of people. Millions and millions of people are in poverty in America and the richest country in the world. We can't even figure out how to fix that, right? So we can't figure out how to fix that. How can we begin to, you know, fix any of our other problems?
[00:12:33.746] Kent Bye: Yeah, Lawrence Lessig breaks down that there's these four regulators of any societal structure. There's the technology, which draws the different communication structures that you have, and that in some ways can help form new culture. So culture is another input, but culture is difficult to control because what groups of people decide to do are based upon what individuals do. And so there's different elements of cultural values, the norms, the different taboos and stories and heroes that we have within a culture. But that's often difficult to control. It's based upon individual value systems that are aggregated. And then you have the laws that you take those values and implement it into these structures that are enforced by the government. And then you have the economy and market dynamics, which Of all the different things, probably the economy is the one that we have the most control over as an individual, because you as an individual can change your market decisions of what you're choosing to support, and that can aggregate probably the most clearly in terms of the market dynamics.
[00:13:33.089] Cosmo Scharf: How can we change our laws? I mean, we can vote for politicians, we can become politicians ourselves, but for the most part, that is kind of like a thing that happens over there behind closed doors. And yeah, you're right. It's like asking this question, like how do we affect change, right? And so we have to look at the systems that we have in place and evaluate what are the real reasons for why they're broken or what can be improved about them. in some ways it can seem very daunting and a lot of people are just kind of resigned to accept the problems for what they are and just move on and you know try and figure out how to support themselves with their family and a lot of us are just unfortunately stuck in a position where we're doing a job where we don't really like it but we're just continue doing it because we have to make some money and pay our bills and pay our rent and all this stuff but At least right now, I'm in the headspace where it's like, okay, clearly something is screwed up here. I want to learn as much as possible about what it is and why that is and ultimately figure out how to actually change it. How do we fix things? So it's like a combination of you can be informed and you can have an awareness of some of the problems that we have. So that's kind of step one. And fortunately, by and large, we don't have at all a real true awareness of things like, you know, for example, how the Federal Reserve is a huge scam. And then the second kind of half of the equation is, okay, so you have an awareness, you have the ideas, how do you convert that into tangible change? How do you take action to meaningfully improve our lives as a society and you know people have ideas for both of these things and there are movements that have cropped up like the zeitgeist movement for example and you know there's Occupy Wall Street and You know, unfortunately, there's really not enough people talking about this or taking meaningful action in the right steps towards this because we're all so focused on the nine to five, getting the work done and making the money that very few of us are in the fortunate position of being able to think critically about how to actually solve some of our biggest problems.
[00:15:55.649] Kent Bye: Well, in some ways, all these things that we're talking about, both the economy and the laws, are in some ways the base operating system of a culture, in that if you have something like this debt-based currency that is driving the entire culture, and the laws are there to enforce that, and to have taxes that are being collected by the government through this currency, just looking at currencies and the history of currencies, whatever currency is able to be used to pay for taxes actually legitimizes that as a currency in a way, historically. And I've seen a lot of the different videos going back from either the Zeitgeist Movement or Ron Paul and a lot of this discussion about the Federal Reserve and just seeing what's happened to cryptocurrency and the Bitcoin, for example. Cryptocurrency is lauded as this big alternative to debt-based currencies in that It's equivalent to like having a fixed set amount. So it's a constrained resources of how many bitcoins are going to be out there. So there's an incentive to hold on to it. But because there's an incentive to hold on to it, you don't actually functionally use it as a currency. And so I think there's things like that. When you look at Bitcoin, you're like, yeah, but Bitcoin's there. It's doing it. But the behavior is that people don't actually use it because it's stupid to buy pizza with Bitcoin. Because like 10 years later, it's like, why did I spend what is equivalent now to like $11 million on pizza? So I think that there's actually a function there to have something lose value over time, because then there's an incentive to actually have flow rather than to hold on and hoard.
[00:17:25.670] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, that's a really good point, right? Like there's this difference between the philosophy of blockchain or Bitcoin where we're all super excited about the potential for what it could mean to have a decentralized financial system. But then there's like the practicality of, okay, how do we actually live a life using these technologies? And there's a very big difference there. I also want to touch on the word you use, you know, operating system is really a crucial metaphor and how we understand our culture using the analogy of a computer system. And not to go into like the simulation theory or anything, not to say that we're literally in a computer or whatever, maybe we are, who knows, but This notion of our culture, we have these different operating systems, right? Like we have our personal operating system, how do we choose to behave on a personal basis? That then kind of ripples out into the more kind of social operating system, the groups of people. Then we have the operating system of a nation and their laws, or rather the states and then the nation, and then the global operating system. And how do you change the global operating system? Well first you have to change, you know, I'll start at the bottom, the personal operating system. So what are the values? What are the beliefs? What are the intentions that you live your life by? And first you change that, which ultimately ripples out and affects more and more of the network. So I think thinking about it from a, you know, we take for granted like you can download an app to your phone or computer and that changes the functionality of what you can do with that device. In a similar way, we can download, I mean all the time we're downloading new beliefs and new ideas. So it's really about figuring out how we can download beliefs and ideas that free us instead of further enslaving us to someone else's idea of how our country or reality should be operated.
[00:19:25.425] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that's a key point because I've gone in a similar path where I would get involved in looking at these big social political issues. Back in 2002-2006, I worked on a project called the Echo Chamber Project where I was looking at how the media became an echo chamber to the war in Iraq and how the media just was repeating all of the government propaganda that we needed to have this war, that they had weapons of mass destruction. Whereas there's people like Scott Ritter, who was saying, no, that's not true. There's no evidence for that. And yet, Once there was a vote in Congress, then there was basically this push towards war where it was seen as inevitable. It's already been authorized by the Congress because the Democrats at the time didn't want to have that as a discussion after 9-11. They wanted to just get it off the table in October before the election in November, and then we sort of rushed to war the next March of 2003. And so I think we're kind of in a similar period now where we're kind of looking at the dimensions of what is truth, what is reality, what are the structures of power, like who's in control, what kind of ethics does our government have, like what kind of corruption is happening in this whole entire system, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, there's more disenfranchisement, I mean all these trends are people are feeling it. And I think there's this fear that is there. And in the context of that fear, then has these people who are this kind of parental figures who are saying, I'm going to take care of you by putting all these systems of control and surveillance in place. And we're kind of slipping into this authoritarian type of dynamic. But But the antidote there is as individuals we have the capacity to be able to handle and cope with that fear and have this balance between our own individual liberties and ability to control our own emotions versus the systems and structures that are in place to be able to give us this perception of safety. And you had this really interesting like set of metaphors that you used at the very end. Maybe you could kind of describe that because I think that kind of encapsulates in some ways this sort of dynamic.
[00:21:27.300] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, I totally agree with all that. It's all about reclaiming our power, right? Like we have this individual creativity that needs to be expressed and yet we've accepted a reality with rules that force us into situations that we wouldn't otherwise be in if not for making money. But to get to the story or the metaphor that I was discussing at the end of my speech, there's something called the Rainbow Bridge Prophecies of Turtle Island, which is, I think, very relevant to our time right now. So supposedly in 1250 BC there was a group of hundreds of shamans and magicians from North, South, and Central America that gathered together in Mexico. And they dreamed for three years. They had a vision using something called the Ark of the Crystal Skulls, which is interesting. Indiana Jones. And they had this vision that is told in the form of a metaphor of a horse race. And there are eight horses of different colors, four of which represent the four corners of the balance, the wheel of life. They essentially had a dream of the destiny of humanity and the planetary destiny. There are four horses. The four main ones are the red horse, which represents the Earth changes like earthquakes and volcanoes, floods, etc. The white horse, which represents the impact of industrialization and technology at the expense of Earth's resources for financial gain. There is the dark horse, which represents the worst in us, fear, war, oppression, things like that. And then there's the golden horse, which represents the best in us. Individuality, peace, freedom, all that stuff. And so all these horses are in a race together, right? Who's going to win? And supposedly the dark horse is leading the race right now, but there is this call for 144,000 rainbow warriors to essentially do whatever it takes to bring the golden horse to victory. That's what it's all about. And the way that I view it is there are people incarnated and incarnating on earth right now to be those rainbow warriors, whatever you want to call them, maybe not by that name necessarily, but There are people here on this planet that have come here specifically to bring that golden horse to victory, to make sure that we don't slide into that worst timeline. And on the surface, it totally does seem like it's possible for us to get that kind of 1984 Orwellian Future and that feels like a very real possibility I mean you see what kind of what's going on in the world and how everything appears to be crumbling kind of right before our eyes But the optimistic outlook on that is that's what it appears like on the surface before things change meaningfully for the better, so If you think about like sand falling through an hourglass and the sand in the middle right before it falls through, it's totally unpredictable. It's chaos. It's chaos right as it's falling through the middle. You can't possibly predict where it's going to fall. But then it falls and it lands back and it's all the sand is at the bottom. But now it's back in a new state of order. So I view that to use another metaphor of what is going on in the world right now, where we're in the middle of the hourglass right now, and there's all these horrible wars, and there's poverty, and there's all these really dark negative things going on. It's like, what is going on? Insane, but the question is like how can we be the people to? Create once the sand falls back into place. What is that new order, right? And so you hear this phrase new world order. Well, that's the version of reality that wants to be created by this small group of bankers and quote-unquote elite people to keep everyone else enslaved and Well, what's the opposite of that? What is a new world order that is actually positive, one that works for all of us in peace and harmony, right? How do we go about creating that? Well, first we have to have an awareness of what is going on here to be truthful to ourselves, to look ourselves in the mirror and stop ignoring the elephant in the room, right? Like the more and more that I think about these things, research these topics, it's like, On one level, I get a little frustrated where it's like we're all so myopically focused on things like technology or really you can take any industry for example, we have all these specialists, but we're not seeing the big picture or we're not willing to look at the big picture because it's very scary and that needs to change if we want to have any hope of actually improving things.
[00:26:34.917] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a lot of people who are talking about the future of both AR and VR, and I think that some of these discussions that we're having here is like this base context of what's happening in the world. It's sort of like this, in my mind, big giant open question as to what is the larger context as to where we're at and where this is all going. we're talking about the different horse metaphors that really made me think of when you study history, you see that there's these different pendulums that swing back and forth and that there's these different dialectics that, you know, you can look at, you know, Plato versus Aristotle in terms of like whether or not there's a transcendent realm beyond our direct experience of what Plato would call the ideal form versus the more Aristotelian, the only thing that's real are things that we can empirically observe with our senses and falsify and repeat. Now, there's certain dimensions of the human experience through myth and story and our direct experiences that are non-falsifiable and non-repeatable, and so how do you reckon the qualia of experience with the quantity of things that can be falsified and observed? And so, this is a dialectic that's been happening for the last 2,500 years, and we've been in a bit of a 500-year Aristotle period, and I think that over the last 100 years, we've been starting to shift back into an era of Plato, where we're looking at these realms beyond things that we can directly perceive. But that there's different dimensions of that at smaller scale, smaller cycles, whether it's conservative liberal, whether it's this centralization versus decentralization, which I think from a technological point of view is probably the thing that you can just say that there's a bit of bloat that is coming from the centralized control of both the efficiencies that have come from the internet for the economies of scale that happen with all these major tech companies. But we have a handful of people that are basically controlling our destiny technologically. and that it's their economic interests that are kind of shaping our experience of these different mediated technologies. And so what is the decentralized version of that, whether it's through cryptocurrency or the open web or these decentralized systems that the different things that you're talking about, which is either open source or the Ubuntu communitarianism or other ways to take these centralized systems and to give more power and agency to individuals and that In some ways, it kind of takes the pain of living into the dark shadow, unconscious dimensions of these centralized systems for us to start to shift our values to be able to invest and to create alternative systems that do something completely different.
[00:28:51.865] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, what I'm reminded of are the yugas, right, the Kali Yuga, like the different cycles of time. And so, apparently, our society goes through periods where we are essentially asleep, and then we're awake, and then we're asleep, and then we're awake. And we are coming out right now of a long period of when we're asleep. And I think the chaos that you see in the world right now is the result of some people starting to wake up and realize, like, wait, like, this is, like, crazy, like, there's a lot of stuff that's wrong here, and so we're making a lot of noise about it. And that's only going to continue to increase as more and more people start realizing what is actually going on, especially with the power of the internet to become aware of things that are happening on a global scale.
[00:29:42.240] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I should mention that as we're having this discussion just within the last week or so, there's been a person who's apprehended for sending bombs to people. I think just today there was somebody who went to a synagogue and started shooting Jewish people saying, all Jews must die. There's been a lot of talk, I think, especially in certain fringe elements of talking about Bankers and George Soros and what is generally referred to in conspiracy circles as the Jewish conspiracy specifically and I think it's a sensitive topic as we're talking about this because What I would say is like I do think there's systems that are existing. I don't know whether or not there's a control group there might be I don't know like there's people like talk about the Bilderberg and the Trilateral Commission all these things like to me. I've moved away from trying to like to me it just is unfalsifiable and that Like it starts to other eyes and start to create the demon And I think the pain that people are feeling is that we're out of control and then we have no agency and now in order to fight back we must do armed conflict to actively kill people which I think is the exact opposite direction of where we need to go and so there's a bit of These discussions that we're having here that have these different interpretations and different layers and I just want to just name that that I understand there's these economic issues, but there's also this whole hatred and turning into these larger conspiracies that then becomes like, let's now go into an armed conflict in order to resolve this tension.
[00:31:12.943] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, that's a really good point I want to address. When we talk about all these negative things and the systems of power and control and saying, oh, there's a small group of people are essentially making everyone else their slaves, like, yeah, OK, maybe that might be true, but... we need to be careful not to quote-unquote otherize, as you describe, which I think is a very important point, but to recognize these quote-unquote evil or psychopathic people that may be manipulating the society, to recognize them as aspects of ourselves that are not quite as evolved yet. They're kind of lost in this distorted ego and haven't quite yet got to the point where I realize like that's not really gonna get them anywhere ultimately. Like you can have lots of money and enjoy your life for some time, but that's not gonna get you, you know, true happiness as we all know. So how do we possibly see ourselves in some of the most evil people is really challenging. But until we can do that, how can we possibly truly unify, right?
[00:32:30.366] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that's the challenge is that if you get too stuck into the us versus them, then you start to potentially dehumanize other people. And I think that's the risk.
[00:32:39.330] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, exactly. It was like this us versus them thing is ridiculous because it's all us. But we have this tendency to, through language, we often separate ourselves into different groups because that's just kind of what it appears like to be on the surface. But seeing through that and recognizing that the most esoteric concept is like, yeah, we're all a part of one consciousness, one field. And so if we can remember that in these conversations, that's really important perspective to have.
[00:33:16.688] Kent Bye: Yeah, because I think that the thing that you were talking about earlier, just about the degree to which that we have our own ability to change ourselves. I think this is a bit of like, I guess, philosophical shift, a paradigm shift in terms of like, what is the best thing that you could do to change the world? And then when you say, oh, well, just take care of yourself and meditate. while the world is burning down you're like well how does that work that if you're going to just go and like take care of yourself what's the theory of change by which that that's actually the most important thing you can do but i think that what i would say is that there is this dimension by which that the way that we are embodying our values on our day-to-day life then ripples out in a certain way
[00:33:55.523] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, that's a really, that's a very important question, right? It's like, okay, we have all these crazy, scary things going on. How possibly is me changing myself going to do anything, right? Well, actually, that has ripple effects. Other people notice that they start changing themselves, right? Because we're all part of this connected network where When one person really lives in a way that is in harmony with their environment, truly, that affects every other node in the morphic field, right? It has these invisible energetic consequences.
[00:34:38.453] Kent Bye: So there was a lot of stuff that you covered in your talk, and I hope that people will get a chance to watch it. But if there's one thing that you were trying to have the students here take away from this exploration to discussion, especially in the context of VR, AR hackathon, like how does the immersive technologies kind of play into this?
[00:34:56.108] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, so I mentioned this in the end of my speech. With AR and VR, we have an unprecedented ability to manipulate our environment, to code the reality that we want to create and experience that and live that. But we also need to remember that our reality outside the headset is equally as malleable. It's just not as apparent. So if we can remember that in our day-to-day lives and know that us as individuals really truly do have the power to change things for the better that is an incredibly powerful thing to live your life by to know that even though there are existing power structures that do carry a lot of inertia that are kind of looming over us, that we can take actions to recreate the world in the way that we want to see, the one that works for all of us. That what is created can be recreated and we can be the visionary leaders that our world lacks. That was the last line of the speech.
[00:36:01.848] Kent Bye: In talking to Joseph Poon at the Decentralized Web Summit, one of the things he said is that they're trying to prove out in the cryptocurrency world that the more they give away, the more value they can create. A lot of what happens in the cryptocurrency world is that they have to cultivate ecosystems. They have to create open protocols and get people to collaborate. So, if you're looking for models for this more cooperative, collaborative infrastructure, I think that the cryptocurrency ecosystem is one dimension where that's starting to potentially be proved out. And one of the things he said is that when it comes down to human behavior, you can't figure out what is going to change until you actually do a live experiment. It's like trying to play poker with fake money. You don't actually get real behavior when you're playing with fake money. So, in order to really see how value is exchanged, you have to do these experiments live. You gotta do it live. And so there's a bit of, I think right now, of as we have this legacy system that we have, just call it a legacy system with the vision that we have a better, a new and better system that's possible, but we can't just rip it out and put a new thing in. We have to have these abilities to put things on the side, whether it's open source, I think is another way to do that. Cryptocurrency could be another way to do that. Forming complementary currencies is another way to do that. Finding ways to create different new social dynamics that are having value exchanges with people. And maybe within the context of some of these virtual and augmented reality environments, because they have this virtual layer that there's no scarcity, so you can have these different dynamics, then how are there going to be new ways in which you can have people actually be able to sustain themselves as individuals?
[00:37:33.065] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, we're not just going to rip out our existing systems wholesale, like they're not just gonna go away and change overnight. We have to start experimenting with new ways that we can live together under the current system. And what I really appreciate about something like Ubuntu Contributionism from Michael Tellinger, which is one of these alternative social blueprints for creating a world without money, is that he's proposing something called the One Small Town Project, where people contribute, you know, three hours per week to certain community projects. They get access to what they produce for free, and they sell what they don't need to neighboring towns and communities, for example. This is an idea, a model, that is not in conflict or at war with the existing system. It works alongside. and hopefully it can become so much more compelling that it ultimately wins out and gains much more gravity and we just at some point let go of the one that doesn't work for us right now.
[00:38:37.265] Kent Bye: I think the big fear around some of these alternative systems is whenever you start to think about alternative systems beyond capitalism, you immediately go to the polar opposite, which is socialism, and be like, OK, well, that hasn't worked. And so I think the thing that we're at, though, with the technologically mediated, either through cryptocurrencies, I guess a big open question I have is, are there cryptocurrencies that can change the fundamental sort of power law dynamics of wealth redistribution? Can you do things like implement some of these Ubuntu communitarianism or the resource-based economy or universal basic income? Are these other systems that, in some ways, would require collective decisions from governments to be able to redistribute money? Or maybe that would be through the companies and corporations. What if we got UBI from Facebook or Google or these major companies?
[00:39:22.163] Cosmo Scharf: For some reason that scares me more than the notion of UBI coming from the government, even though neither of them are so great right now. But yeah, when it comes to crypto, I mean, I think blockchain is a really important innovation, right? Like this decentralization technology. Exactly how it will play out in manifesting these new visions for the future, I'm not sure. I mean, we don't really have Nowhere close to all the answers that we need right now. I'm coming into this conversation inheriting all these decades of research from people before me, and I'm still very much learning. And yeah, I don't know, but I'm excited to figure it out.
[00:40:04.310] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I would point people to like eco villages permaculture There's like small things that are happening at small scales And I think the question I have is like what is a regression path to be able to start to expand that out? and I think that with these Potentially like a whole augmented layer of reality like I think AR as well as VR can start to coordinate some of these things because I think there's an issues of coordination and sharing resources, you know, like how can AR be a tool to be able to actually point people towards like, hey, I need a wheelbarrow. Oh, well, this neighbor over here has a wheelbarrow that's sort of an open and it's sort of like you can just go get it and you just have this ability to say you have these shared resources, like how can you start to then use augmented reality to start to facilitate some of that? So that's
[00:40:48.252] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, exactly how that would work, I have no idea, but just the premise of being able to use these new technologies like AR and VR to manifest a new social structure that is more equitable and more sustainable is really exciting because these technologies allow you to visualize your imagination in ways that have never really been possible before that instantaneously without requiring physical materials, right? So, I'm not sure quite where that goes, but I love what you're describing.
[00:41:23.777] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual or augmented reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:41:32.204] Cosmo Scharf: Your classic question. Yes, you wrote a book on this, yeah?
[00:41:35.666] Kent Bye: I am in the process of sort of gathering all the different things still, yeah.
[00:41:40.011] Cosmo Scharf: Yeah, I think it really comes back to what I was saying earlier, which is the realization that reality itself is malleable, that it's not just something that happens inside the headset, that we have the power to shape and create the reality that we want to see in the world.
[00:41:59.646] Kent Bye: Great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. Yeah, thank you. That's great. So that was Cosmo Scharf. He's a co-founder of VRLA and a co-founder of Mindshow. And he was talking at the CSUB Bakersfield XR Hackathon about some of the deepest patterns and structures of reality. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, there's a point in Cosmo's speech where he put up a quote from Jeremy Aldana and it was, I'm intrigued by the smile upon your face and the sadness within your eyes. There's something about that quote that just really hit me. That's just that there's so much that's happening in the world right now. So much pain and so much suffering and so much chaos, so much disorder. And there's a lot of times in which I look at virtual reality and all this technology and I wonder, okay, how is this fit and how is this contextualized within this larger context of what's happening? one of the things that Cosmo was really trying to pull out in his talk was to get out of that daily process of just going to work and doing your job and to look at the deepest patterns and structures of reality and what is the feeling of what's happening in our culture and how much we are in this, what Cosmo calls this value system disorder, which is that there is this emphasis on money above all else. And we all have to survive to a certain extent, so we do have to work and we do have to make a living, And yet, what are the structures of society that are looking at what is our relationship to the earth? What is the relationship within our communities? How are we living in alignment with our values? I think it's getting to the point where there are these completely different polarized factions of people that are starting to just kill each other. I think it's super scary. The best that I can think of is that just by having these conversations and to do the work that each of us can do to be able to change our own values and our own behaviors. I was talking about Lawrence Lessig to Cosmo, and I said to Cosmo that the economy and the market is really the thing that, as an individual, we have the most power over. And that's not necessarily true. I mean, you can make economic decisions, but that may not shift the overall economy. The most control and agency that you have is over your own personal beliefs and worldviews And your values and how you act and behave in the world and that's pretty much it You know unless you're a politician or unless you're in the process of trying to educate and change the culture in different ways I or you're trying to change technology. I think all of those are different things that we can do. We can create technological experiences that communicate in new ways, that can eventually change culture, that can change values, that can eventually change the laws and change the ways that we structure ourselves and the types of decisions that we make. Cryptocurrency is potentially one option, but yet there's a lot of issues with the sustainability of cryptocurrency, and it's still half-baked in the sense that it's still early technologies. It's not really ready for a mass mainstream deployment yet. It's still an experimental technology. not like a silver bullet. There aren't any silver bullets that are out there. I think the thing that I've been really focusing on is having conversations. And I feel like the way to change worldviews is to engage in dialectic, where you're actually open minded to be able to hear other perspectives and other points of view. And if you're able to hold a paradox within your mind to be able to withstand somebody else's perspective, and maybe if they're able to do the same, to be able to hold their own worldviews and beliefs lightly, and to be able to be open to different facts that are contradicting their beliefs, then maybe there's a hope for where this is all going to go. I think what I see is this tension right now between fact and belief. I've done a number of different deep dives down the rabbit hole of different conspiratorial theories and you know I think some of them are interesting and some of them may actually be true but there's a lot of them that they just get into a self-reinforcing like YouTube rabbit hole that they're referencing each other and they're not taking in contradictory information. Like if you're going to believe something, you have to try to go out and actually falsify it. And so if you're actually actively seeking out information that's trying to falsify your worldview, then you're just going to be following the confirmation bias to only be looking at information that's going to be reaffirming your existing beliefs. And I think that's the problem with conspiratorial thinking is that insular nature where there's not outside information to be able to contradict some of the beliefs that happen within some of these circles. So I think we kind of see this type of conspiratorial mindset that is really propagating in our culture right now. And to a certain extent, there is always going to be a tension between your lived experiences and your beliefs and the type of information that you can falsify. And if you look at Gödel and his incompleteness theorem, he pretty much showed that any consistent set of logic is going to have a sense of incompleteness. Like you can't have a set of consistent beliefs that are both complete and consistent. So there's always going to be an open-endedness that it's never complete. but there may be inconsistencies. And there's certainly inconsistencies within human beings, that's for sure. We're filled with paradox. But any sort of set logical system is going to try to be consistent and incomplete. What that means is that there's going to be always a level of belief of lived experience that can't be falsified. It's just human experience. And that just is a function of how the philosophy of science works. And so the big tension that we have to figure out is how do you reckon the beliefs of some of these stories of what the nature of reality is versus what our facts are in terms of what we can prove and falsify. So I wanted to say that just because I think there's a lot of discussion about conspiracy theories as well as these deeper stories of the nature of reality. And for me, I try to do a little bit of both, of be open-minded to the potential of some of these possibilities, but also have a very pragmatic approach where there's things that I believe that I can't prove. I think everybody is in that case of just your lived experience. And sometimes it's just like your preference of what types of either experiences or films or genres or food, whatever it is, you have beliefs that you have that are coming from your lived experience that you can't isolate to a singular fact or a singular itemized thing that can be falsified. And so we're always going to be some sort of combination of belief and fact. So I wanted to unpack that a little bit because Cosmo was talking about some of these larger, from the realm of conspiracy theory, these control group theories. And I think if you look at it from a systematic perspective, I think there is a pretty compelling argument when it comes to the role of banks and banking institutions and the Federal Reserve. It's basically the rich get richer and the top 1% that a lot of the Occupy Wall Street was talking about. I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination to say that the amount of wealth that's controlled by a small percentage of the world's population is disproportionate to how that wealth is distributed amongst all the people. It's the power law curve dynamic where the more access of power and resources that you have, it's just easier to gather and gain more wealth over time. So those types of power dynamics and situations exist. And I think one of the things that's happening right now in our culture is this tension between what is the structures of society that we have and how is it going to be related to these deeper ethical and moral issues of power and wealth? And also, do we have a system that works for everybody? And I think a lot of people are looking at it and they're like, no, like all of our institutions are failing us in many different ways. there's a level of institutional inefficiency. And whether it's the mainstream media or the politics or whatever it is, there's a lot of people that are just really upset with our major institutions today. And I think that we're all ready for maybe a little bit of shift of how things are actually working for everybody. So I think Cosmo was bringing up a lot of different interesting aspects, whether it's the resource-based economy, universal basic income, or the Ubuntu contributionism. All these things are different models that I think that can start to be added in to the side in parallel to what our existing systems are. It's difficult to just rip out the existing system and put something in new. And so what are the ways that we can start to add things on the side that can start to cultivate the types of culture and behaviors that we actually want to see in the world? So I just wanted to end on the dream that Cosmo shared. We were staying in the hotel and we got a ride over in the morning and on the ride over Cosmo started to share this dream with me where he was essentially saying that he was about to smoke a joint with Bill Clinton. And Cosmo said he had just read a lot of David Icke's conspiracy theories about the reptilian theory that a lot of these major leaders are actually like reptilian aliens. And I'm not actually a big fan of David Icke at all. And I don't subscribe to this reptilian theory. But if you look at it symbolically, what that is saying is that there's something about our leaders that are alien and that are completely different than us. They're actually non-human. So it's a form of dehumanization. And what was interesting about the dream is that he's smoking a joint with somebody who had been in this process of being dehumanized through this conspiracy theory from David Icke. And I sort of mentioned this just in terms of like, yeah, you're kind of like there's a part of yourself that is that Bill Clinton, that is that part of the other that you're exiling within yourself. And this was before he gave his whole talk, and I think that there is this dimension of the other-izing process that can happen in the worst aspects of the conspiracy theories, which is that you start to dehumanize the other people, and then the solution becomes to then either just kill them or to act out violently with them. whether it's punching Nazis in the face or whether it's some of the white nationalists and anti-semitic people who are deciding to go into a synagogue and start shooting Jewish people saying kill all Jews which is the situation where we're in where we're kind of past the level of dialectic and dialogue and now we're just people taking upon themselves to take action and start to kill people and I think this is a super dangerous road to go down and it's like I don't want to see this sort of escalation of just Being terrified that at any moment there's gonna be like these outbreaks of people starting to kill each other in this way I just think it's not a good path to go down just in general. I'm just totally against it I'm against punching Nazis in the face and I'm against like going into the synagogue and shooting up people both because You get to the level of dehumanization and the thing that you need is dialectic and dialogue and conversation and that's the best that I can think of I mean Maybe there's another way, but I just feel like there's a bit of our context right now where things are just accelerating down a very dangerous path. So anyway, this, this conversation that Cosmo was bringing at this XR hackathon, it was really a great opportunity because he was able to just like speak about whatever he wanted. And this was just really on his heart. It was just a really authentic transmission about some of these deeper things that I think he's, you know, you can listen to it and there's aspects of reality that he's reflecting in the story that he's telling that are really just resonating for me. They resonated for me and I think they really resonated with the audience. And this myth of the Rainbow Bridge prophecy of the Turtle Island was a great metaphor to talk about this golden horse and this dark horse of this dark horse of all the death and violence and destruction and chaos of the world and the golden horse of the most exalted aspects of our humanity and our individuation and our ability to take action and to really make change in the world and that there's this battle that we have right now and it feels like the dark horse is winning right now, it really does. But that there's a potential for the golden horse in the long run to be this counteraction as people are like looking the context of all the things that are going on, just being able to tune in deeply and to be able to try to figure out something that's completely different. And I think that's a role where both immersive technologies, augmented reality, virtual reality could potentially start to create different experiences that explore this in different ways. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And I wanted to also just thank my Patreon supporters. You know, I do have a lot of people that do support me to be able to do this work. And I wouldn't be able to do this without you. I really wouldn't. And if you'd like to see this type of journalism and this type of coverage continue, then I do need your help through Patreon just to be able to support and grow this project of being able to do this type of journalism and community media within the VR ecosystem. So if you want to see more of this, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, share this episode with somebody who might enjoy it, but also consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to do this and to bring you this coverage. So you can donate and become a member today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.