Simulation and Embodied Experience
My partner, Beth, and I recently made a trip to Anacortes, WA to visit her brother, Jeff, a naval pilot who is stationed at Whidbey Island. I finished reading Neuromancer on the drive up and began reading Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman on the return trip. While driving around Anacortes (a small city located on Fidalgo Island, about 60 miles north of Seattle, and homeport to the San Juan Islands), we had a short conversation about simulation.
As a military pilot, Jeff has been trained primarily through simulation. He told us that the reasoning behind this practice is both economical and informational: economical in that it is much more cost-effective to run simulations than to schedule actual flights and informational in that variables are easier to control. In the simulator, certain situations and complications to those situations can be manipulated and/or programmed to occur, thereby arguably providing more effective and well-rounded training. An example of this manipulation is that an instructor could program aircraft malfunctions into the simulated flight – malfunctions that might never occur in an RL flight – in order to better prepare the student pilot for such complications during combat. I don’t know that the Navy would argue simulation as a one-to-one stand-in for RL in-flight training, but knowing how heavily it’s relied on is certainly interesting.
This makes me wonder, though, having read and thought about Hayles a little more… How is the pilot’s embodied experience of flight different in the simulator versus when actually flying his plane? Can the simulator possibly account for his individualized experience of either an actual training flight or a wartime operation? And what about the pilot’s reliance on the corporeality of others, as he takes off and lands on an aircraft carrier?
Complicating this even further are training simulators designed specifically to prepare trainees for certain embodied experiences. What I’m thinking of here are simulators that recreate how zero gravity or G-force, to name a couple, feel. Are they simulations if they produce a measureable physical effect akin to an RL encounter with zero gravity or G-force? Is a secondary purpose of these kinds of simulation to train students how to still think while the sensations they’re feeling are so corporeally different from when their feet are planted firmly on the ground? How does this speak to Hayles’ argument that consciousness cannot be isolated from embodiment?