Notes: 5.2 Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations

Read Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations and make notes:

“Simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no original to begin with, or that no longer have an original.[1] Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.[2]” (Wikipedia, last updated 2016)

  1. “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance.
    It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” (1) Baudrillard refers here to meta-objects in language that don’t relate to physical objects. At the most extreme end, people’s profiles on Facebook or other digital sites don’t die when they do. It has been suggested the time will come when a computer programme will be able to take the digital data we leave behind and re-create a simulated version of ourselves (although why anyone would want to is the question… ) Mind transfer to a computer is, it is claimed, within reach. At which point existence can move forward entirely as a simulacrum. (Our awkward excreting fallible bodies may no longer hinder us under such circumstances, and I can imagine people being hooked up mentally to some online world while their physical bodies are left behind in some form with tubes taking care of the real stuff) . When Baudrillard wrote this paper in 1981, he can only have imagined the levels of digital reality that we live with now, although he does seem to have done a pretty amazing job doing so. However, language has worked on this level for some time as objects that don’t really exist make up our understanding of reality… i.e. words. Culture surrounding children for instance is a case in point and Baudrillard focuses on Disneyland. He describes this fantasy place as “the perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulacra” and exists to hide the fact that Disneyland is America, just as prisons exist to hide the fact that society operates as prison, keeping its subjects incarcerated. He refers to a map in a story Elsewhere online we are told “A specific analogy that Baudrillard uses is a fable derived from “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges. In it, a great Empire created a map that was so detailed it was as large as the Empire itself. The actual map was expanded and destroyed as the Empire itself conquered or lost territory. When the Empire crumbled, all that was left was the map. In Baudrillard’s rendition, it is conversely the map that people live in, the simulation of reality where the people of Empire spend their lives ensuring their place in the representation is properly circumscribed and detailed by the map-makers; conversely, it is reality that is crumbling away from disuse.” (Wikipedia) This makes me think about the hoopla that child rearing is infused with, from the paraphernalia surrounding infancy to the terms people use to describe stages such as ‘terrible twos’. This paper is very difficult to get one’s head around fully and at the moment I can sense it right on the very outer edges of my understanding and am constantly alert to the fact that I risk imposing my own worldview onto his theory.
  2. “In this passage to a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor of truth, the age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials – worse: by their artificial resurrection in systems of signs, which are a more ductile material than meaning, in that they lend themselves to all systems of equivalence, all binary oppositions and all combinatory algebra. It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have to be produced: this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference.” In this passage the most obvious thing that I think of is money, as we head into a cashless society. We will no longer have coins and notes that represent something of value in the bank. Instead we will have merely the idea of it in digital form being moved around the online world only. Does money even relate to anything substantial you can pick up in the bank any more? I’m not sure it has done for some now. My children want to buy in-app purchases  – they would be paying for a digital event in a game that takes place and then disappears. It feels like giving money away for nothing to me but to them it feels natural to be paying for something that doesn’t exist except as a moment’s experience. What is the difference really between what they want to spend money on and the machine that promised to shove pennies over the edge in arcades when I was a child? Each is as pointless as the other and merely encourages more and more empty spending. But where is the line drawn between meaningless and pointless spending and useful spending? If I buy an apple I can eat it. If I buy a pink-lady apple I can eat it and perhaps enjoy the feeling of having bought a more expensive apple. (Mind you, if I buy apples from Harrods, I wouldn’t enjoy them at all because they might have cost £25 each but it’s what’s in my imagination that stops me from enjoying them, my relationship with money, which as I’ve said is probably quite close to an idea nowadays, although a very powerful one – simulacra )
  3. “Simulation is the operation of a real-world process or system over time”. The internet is possibly a digital version of processes that are organic and animalistic, and in times of less complex, social organisation, it may be argued occurred as a matter of course. Social contagion is the phenomena where ideas and behaviours spread between people and groups in a way that seems automatic and unspoken, and groups need not be in direct contact. Mirror neurones seems to play an important role. Perhaps the internet has brought this potentially* real process into a symbolic, computerised manifestation as the real function of social interaction slowly disintegrates. Is it up to us to make moral judgements about where the interaction is based? In organic consciousness or digital connections? We have a long way to go before we fully understand the processes. (See Deborah M Gordon’s article on ant culture and then end of the division of labour metaphor been applied to human constructed society). However, “To dissimulate is to feign not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But the matter is more complicated, since to simulate is not simply to feign: “Someone who feigns an illness can simply go to bed and pretend he is ill. Someone who simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms” (Littre).” (2) Human consciousness is extremely powerful and feigning illness can  lead to real illness. E.g. A culture of sickness it might be argued encourages more illness.

Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations at first seems bleak and depressing however, I think is important to read it with as little moral value judgement as possible. (what we can understand of it – it’s very tricky to get to grips with) The Holographic Theory that has been developed in quantum physics circles might be connected in a very literal way (which was done in The Matrix) to some of Baudrillard’s ideas. There are even those who insist that a theory suggesting our world is a simulation will be proven at some point in the future. (Solon, 2016) But as things stand, until that branch of science makes more sense to people in the non-scientific world  Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalisation seems a more useful interpretation, where he looks at the themes covered by Baudrillard such as living in a world that is disconnected from the real and finding ourselves affected by economic simulations and the machinations of those in power. As for our online world, an obvious and direct example of how powerful simulated worlds are is in an article about how women feel when they’re sexually harassed online in games. ““No bodies touched,” Dibbell wrote in the Village Voice. And yet, to the victims, the violation was real: “posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face – a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words’ emotional content was no mere playacting.” (Wong, 2016) I suppose my problem with the idea that a simulated world is somehow not ‘real’ is because you have to wonder what we mean by real. An actor is still real even if he’s using the words given to him by a writer. The scene he acts in is a real scene. The motions he relies on to convey the narrative are simulated but if he’s any good they will be genuinely felt, alongside another sense of reality managing the mis-en-scene. The All Blacks simulate rage and aggression in the ritualised chanting they do before each game. It then becomes very real and helps them to win most of their matches. The women in the online game felt abused and violated by the  men they were playing with who harassed them. When we see a film, we’re really seeing a real film. The boundaries are not as clear-cut as we may think. It might be argued we simulate civilisation to hide the fact we’re all sociopathic animals who struggle with inner non-civilised drives, some more successfully than others.

Baudrillard PDF –

Wong, 2016 –

Solon, 2016  –

Wikipedia references:

Robert Goldman; Stephen Papson (2003-08-30). “Simulacra definition”. Information technology. St. Lawrence University. Retrieved 2015-08-04.

Jump up ^ J. Banks; J. Carson; B. Nelson; D. Nicol (2001). Discrete-Event System Simulation. Prentice Hall. p. 3. ISBN 0-13-088702-1.


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