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Nikos Erinakis / Νίκος Ερηνάκης

Virtual ‘Rhizomata’:
Culture, Politics and Climate in Hyperreality

Nikos Erinakis 02.jpg

[Virtual ‘Rhizomata’: Culture, Politics and Climate in Hyperreality]

 The climate crisis is probably the most significant challenge that our planet faces, with the potential to reshape society and culture in fundamental ways. One of the most immediate and tangible effects of climate change is its impact on weather patterns, with rising temperatures, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and changing precipitation patterns. The climate crisis and its impact on weather conditions have already transformed culture as much in the field of moral and social values as in the field of artistic practices, with climate playing a central role in shaping our lived experience and artistic expression in both the material reality and the digital hyperreality. The aim of this paper is to claim that a unified and enriched use of concepts, such as Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreality and Gilles Deleuze’s rhizome, if treated through an analytical contemporary prism, can operate both as a direct influence and as a metaphor in order for us to develop and transform the digital hyperreality— based on the exposure of connections between semiotic chains, sources of power and creative situations relative to the arts, sciences and social struggles—towards the realization of collective ideal goals as the one of environmental justice.

  It is a rather cliché statement to claim that the weather has always been an important factor in our daily lives. In recent years, thinkers and scientists have provided new insights into the complex interplay between the aforementioned variables. Moods, emotions, thoughts, ideas, values and actions are complex psychological and cognitive states that are influenced by a variety of internal and external factors, nevertheless studies have shown that weather is one of the core external factors that can influence them. For instance, research has verified the common idea that people are more likely to experience negative emotions, such as sadness and irritability, on cloudy and rainy days (Denissen et al., 2008). In contrast, sunny days have been associated with positive emotions, such as happiness and contentment. However, it is important to note that the relationship between weather and emotions is not such a simple one. Some studies have found that the impact of weather on stances and emotions is mediated by internal factors, such as individual differences in mood; for instance, individuals who are prone to depression may be more negatively affected by cloudy and rainy weather than those who are not (Keller et al., 2005). In addition to influencing emotions, weather also impacts our thoughts. This suggests that weather can impact our cognitive processes and judgments. Most importantly though, in regard to one of the main arguments in this paper, is that research has explored the relationship between weather and creativity. A study conducted by Radel et al. (2015) found that individuals were more likely to engage in creative thinking and manifest increased creativity on sunny days than on cloudy days.

  The relationship between weather, politics, and culture is an intricate and complex one, that has puzzled philosophers, political and social scientists and neuroscientists alike. Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that they are interconnected in profound ways, shaping and influencing one another. Weather can influence culture by shaping our attitudes, beliefs, and practices. In societies where the weather is harsh and unpredictable, people may develop a more fatalistic outlook on life, while in societies where the weather is mild and predictable, people may be more optimistic and hopeful, even though there remain rough generalizations. Politics, too, can have a significant impact on weather and culture. For example, political decisions about resource allocation, environmental policy, and infrastructure development can affect the way we interact with the natural world, including the weather. Political decisions can also influence cultural practices by shaping laws and regulations that impact everything from art and literature to language and religion. This said, culture can shape politics and weather in significant ways. Cultural beliefs and values can inform political decisions, leading to the adoption of policies that reflect the values of a particular society.

In-between Real and Hyperreal Weather

 During the last decade, there is a growing body of scientific research that explores the ways in which changes in weather can shape politics and culture. In "Climate, conflict and social stability: what does the evidence say?" by S. Hsiang and M. Burke (2018) the relationship between climate change, weather extremes and social stability is examined, with a focus on the potential for climate-related events that contribute to conflict and displacement. The authors argue that changes in weather can exacerbate existing social and economic vulnerabilities, leading to social unrest and political instability. Furthermore, Brian Fagan in his book The Great Warming: Climate change and the rise and fall of civilizations (2008) explores the impact of climate change on human societies throughout history. He argues that changes in weather patterns, such as droughts and floods, have played a significant role in the rise and fall of civilizations, and that climate change may continue to shape human history in the coming centuries. This said, one could argue that climate crisis may shape human societies, in a political and cultural level, even more radically in the coming centuries than has had until now. Let us also think the legal implications of climate change-induced migration, with a focus on the challenges of protecting the rights of climate refugees. Jane McAdam in Climate Change, Forced Migration, and International Law (2012) argues that changes in weather patterns, such as sea level rise and more frequent extreme weather events, can contribute to forced migration and displacement, and that legal frameworks must be developed to address these challenges. These studies illustrate the ways in which changes in weather can interact with social, economic, and political factors to shape human societies. They highlight the need for interdisciplinary approaches to understand the complex dynamics of climate change and its impacts on our world.

 Nevertheless, what we ought to not neglect is that a demanding, critical challenge of our era is to comprehend, develop and transform the extremely complex relationship and dialectic between reality and hyperreality, towards an eco-humanitarian direction, which can be expressed through values and ideas such as the environmental justice (i.e. a combination of ecological sustainability and social justice). For instance, even if the concept of the metaverse is still relatively new and rapidly evolving, so there is not yet a large body of peer-reviewed research on the topic, there are, however, some philosophical insights that can help us understand how climate, and more specifically the weather, might be used in the metaverse culture.

 To begin with, one of the most crucial contributions in this context is Jean Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality. According to Baudrillard (1983, 1994), hyperreality is a state in which the distinction between reality and simulation is blurred to the point where it becomes impossible to distinguish one from the other. In this sense, hyperreality is a kind of simulacrum, a copy without an original. When it comes to the influence of weather on culture in the context of hyperreality, Baudrillard's ideas are particularly relevant. In his book Simulations (1983) and even more in Simulacra and Simulation (1994), he argues that in a hyperreal world, the real and the imaginary are no longer distinct categories; instead, they become intertwined and indistinguishable from one another. As a result, focusing on our subject, the way in which the weather is perceived and experienced in a hyperreal culture may be quite different from the way it is experienced in reality. Obviously, weather conditions within the virtual environment can influence user behavior — users of a virtual reality system may be more likely to engage in risky behavior when the virtual weather is sunny compared to when it is rainy or cloudy. A study by Kim and Sundar (2013) found that users' emotional responses to a website were influenced by the virtual weather conditions presented on the site. Specifically, users reported more positive emotions when the virtual weather was sunny compared to when it was rainy or cloudy. Several virtual reality systems have been developed to simulate different weather conditions within the virtual environment. For example, the Virtual Weather Station system developed by Moreno et al. (2011) simulates realistic weather conditions based on real-time weather data, which can be used for a range of applications, including environmental education and disaster preparedness.

 This said, in a hyperreal culture, the weather may be experienced primarily through representations of it in media and advertising, rather than through direct experience. This could lead to a situation in which the cultural significance of the climate and the weather is divorced from its physical reality, and instead becomes a kind of symbolic shorthand for other values and ideas. On the other hand, the physical weather may influence the metaverse in several ways, including its impact on user behavior, emotions, and the simulation of weather within the virtual environment, but without retaining its physical importance and effect. If a number of normative directions, regulations and initiatives are not activated soon, then we may experience a great wave of ecological indifference, that may lead the climate crisis to a whole new threatening level.


In-between Real and Hyperreal ‘Rhizomata’

 How can the above help us shed more light on the nature of the dialectic between material reality and digital hyperreality as space fields? Overall, the influence of the climate in material reality on the culture of hyperreality and, most importantly, vice versa, is a complex and multifaceted issue. Philosophical ideas about hyperreality, simulacra, and rhizomatic networks can help us understand some of the ways in which this interrelation might play out. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987) wrote about the concept of the ‘rhizome’ (from Ancient Greek ῥίζωμα, rhízōma, "mass of roots"), which is a way of thinking about cultural production and creativity as a kind of network or web of connections rather than a linear progression. In a hyperreal culture, the way in which every subject, object and situation, including different forms of climate, is represented and interpreted may be shaped by these rhizomatic connections, rather than by any direct relationship to physical reality.

 The weather in virtual worlds is often used to create a sense of atmosphere and ambiance, rather than to reflect actual weather conditions. This is because the experience of weather in virtual worlds is primarily visual and auditory, rather than tactile or olfactory. As a result, the use of weather in these environments is often focused on creating a particular mood or tone, rather than on accurately simulating real-world weather patterns. That is, the use of weather in the metaverse is primarily focused on creating a particular aesthetic experience, rather than on accurately simulating real-world weather conditions.

 The impact of weather on user experience in these environments is complex and multifaceted, and may depend on a range of factors including the specific type of weather, the context in which it is used, and the individual user's subjective experience. To shed more light on this, one could explore the relationship between Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and the Metaverse. The epicurean emphasis on the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain can be seen in the way people interact with virtual environments, where they seek out enjoyable experiences and try to avoid negative ones. One could suggest that the Metaverse can be seen as an extension of this philosophy, where people can indulge their desires and create their own realities without regard for traditional social or moral constraints. Taken to an extreme, this seems to be the kind of individualistic, pleasure-seeking ethos that drives much of digital culture. One could also suggest that the idea of the Metaverse as a kind of alternate reality can be seen as a modern version of Lucretius' idea of the ‘void’, the idea that the universe is made up of empty space, with atoms moving freely within it. In the Metaverse, digital objects and avatars exist within a virtual space that is similar to the void in its emptiness and lack of physical substance.

 Deleuze's and Guattari’s concept of rhizome and Baudrillard's idea of hyperreality share several commonalities in their philosophical assumptions and critique of modernity, such as the rejection of fixed structures, unit and totality, and an emphasis on fluidity, multiplicity and complexity. As mentioned, Baudrillard argues that in contemporary society, representation has become detached from reality and has created a hyperreality that is more real than reality itself (Baudrillard, 1983). Baudrillard's hyperreality can be understood as a critique of modernity's fixation on fixed structures and its reliance on representation as a means of constructing reality.

 Deleuze argues that the rhizome is a non-hierarchical and non-linear structure that is characterized by its ability to connect heterogeneous elements in a dynamic and fluid manner (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Moreover, both concepts can be understood as attempts to offer new modes of understanding the contemporary world and its complex systems of power, communication, and representation. In contrast to the modernist view of the world as a hierarchically organized and unified system, the rhizome emphasizes the multiplicity and heterogeneity of the world that may operate as a fruitful tool for comprehending and further developing the digital hyperreality. However, in an attempt to avoid the dead-ends of postmodern absolute fluidity and polysemy, what is needed is a more robust, coherent understanding and use of the connective interdependence between the rhizomata in digital hyperreal networks and normative values that can actually lead us to address crises such as the climate crisis and towards proposals and practices of solutions, such as the environmental justice.

 At a first, rather basic, level, I attempted to highlight how the relationship between weather, politics, and culture is complex and multifaceted. These three entities intersect and influence one another in significant ways, shaping the way we live, work, and interact with the world around us. By understanding this relationship, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the interconnectedness of our world and the importance of taking a holistic approach to understanding and addressing social and environmental issues. At a second, deeper level though, the issue I attempted to raise is how the climate crisis, and more precisely the radical changes in weather conditions in the material reality can influence the culture and general experience of the digital hyperreality and vice versa. Through this example based on climate and weather, I suggest that, while having established how the idea of hyperreality operates in the digital sphere, it is through an enriched conception of ‘rhizomata’ that we could understand how a digital, per se nonlinear network, which connects any point of it to any other point, may operate. Hence, through the above use of such notions, which are grounded to the physical material reality, I claim that if we manage to comprehend them as unified, enriched concepts they may operate both as a direct influence to and as a metaphor in order for us to develop and transform the digital hyperreality, trough connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences and social struggles aiming at the realization of collective ideal goals as the one of environmental justice.



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Nikos Erinakis is a philosopher, poet and educator based in Athens.

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