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2-1-4 Baudrillard and Simulation

Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist, philosopher, photographer, and theorist, distinguished between imitation and simulation in his theories on simulation and hyper-reality. He asserted that in imitation, a physical copy of an object is made, whereas in simulation, it is possible to experience something that does not exist physically. His definitions were based on the ability to refer to the original in the physical and material world. Baudrillard introduced three historical phases or sequences of simulation that reflect his approach to this subject.

Phase one: Baudrillard argued that before the advent of industrialism, there was a clear distinction between the original and its copy. It was possible to differentiate the copy from the original by comparing them. For example, an artist or artisan would make a handmade key, which was a copy of an original key that existed elsewhere and could be referred to (Fig. 2-5). Due to the differences between the original and the copy, each had its distinctive characteristics and features, making them different from each other.

Phase two: With the onset of industrial growth and the industrialist era, it became possible to produce identical copies of a subject. These copies did not differ from each other or the original subject, leading to uncertainty in distinguishing between the original and the copies. For instance, a key factory could produce numerous identical copies of a key (Fig. 2-5). As a result, there is no longer any distinction between the original and the copy.

Baudrillard and Simulation Article - Types of Key Concept

Figure (2-5): Right to left: The distinction between the original and the copy; copies of the same subject; the model and the code replacing the subject (Hedges, 2010)

Phase three: In today’s postindustrial era, the model and the code (similar to a computer code) are more important than the “original” subject, resulting in the transformation of the notion of “the original”. For instance, every person can use a specific password to access different hardware (security devices) and software (such as Internet websites) items. However, there is no physical key or an original subject, and only a virtual code is used to this end (Fig. 2-5) (Hedges).

Baudrillard valued the notions of imitation and representation equally, and thus there is no difference between the applications of these notions in this regard. However, according to Baudrillard, there are fundamental differences between the notions of simulation and representation, which determine the type of reality faced by the person. Baudrillard argues that representation occurs more frequently nowadays and it constitutes many of our real-life experiences. To further clarify this point, Warren Hedges uses the flight simulator as an example to interpret the opinions of Baudrillard (Fig. 2-6). In general, the flight simulator is a device used to teach virtual airplane control. Therefore, this device provides for the “imitation” of a physical entity such as the cockpit of an airliner in practice. However, the same device can “simulate” something nonexistent such as the cockpit of a fictional and imaginary spacecraft. Therefore, based on Baudrillard’s theories, a simulacrum is a representation consisting of several identical copies and it represents something nonexistent without the representation technology. In “imitation”, a copy can be assessed against the original version. For example, the ship shown in Titanic (1997) was comparable to the original ship in 1909.

Baudrillard and Simulation Article - Flight Simulation Concept

Figure (2-6): The dual applications of simulation to flight simulation and representation

However, in a simulacrum, the original subject is not accessible beyond the creator’s technological world. As another example, in Avatar (2009), the machines, creatures, environments, and technologies do not represent anything, and thus they are considered to be “the original”, which is a code or a virtual model commonly known as a digital code. We cannot face the original in our everyday lives without the aid of simulation technologies. Simulation is also made possible by analog technologies. For example, a live music performance can be copied on the gramophone records, and since the original can be referred to, it is deemed a form of imitation. However, multi-track recording, which is the separate recording of the sound of the instruments, the singer’s voice, and the music effects and their synthesis, yields a form of music that cannot be heard live, and thus the final version or product owes its existence to the recording and playing technologies.

Based on the flight simulator example, it is concluded that what Baudrillard believed in is enormously important. It is, in fact, the procedure through which the user experiences the simulation similar to realness whether the simulated subjects match their real existence or not. Hence, if the simulation results in realness, it will be more important as compared to the situation in which it can create an accurate copy of something (that can be referred to as a subject beyond the simulation). Fredric Jameson, the American theorist, and literary critic who is known mainly as an analyst of contemporary culture, defines photorealism as an example of the artistic simulacra and suggests that photorealistic paintings are created by copying a photo, which is itself a copy of the reality (Massumi, 1987). The notion of photorealism is discussed in the following chapter. However, besides Jameson’s definition, the functions of the virtual images link the simulation and representation notions explained by Baudrillard with the notions of photorealistic three-dimensional simulation and representation. Similar to the flight simulator, they also set the scene for the visual representation of an existing reference and can also visually simulate something nonexistent using virtual models or codes. Nevertheless, the flight simulator can be compared to the concept of the virtual world, because this world can be both a representation of the real world and an unreal simulation of this world that is created based on the structures and notions of the real world.