Sean Quinn, Ph.D, J.D., Etc.

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Current discourse on cyber
matters generally uses such phrases as “cyber world,” “virtual world,” “cyberspace,” “cyber tourist,” digital universe,” “virtual” this or that, e.g.,
“virtual currency,” such as bitcoins, and other locations like those. I begin
with an important false distinction in the semantics and ideas used in cyber
discourse.  The high speed of the large
set of powerful, rhythmic, and otherwise attractive metaphors, like those, moving
into parts of languages that are taken to be literal and descriptive, is a dangerous
social phenomenon.  It is to be called “social” because, we are talking about the spread of an important but false and profoundly
misleading conceptual scheme, i.e., systems of ideas.

Such metaphors may play a part in creating a
false conceptual system—one which may substantially mislead at least important
fractions of the population   All of
the metaphors get frequently used and sometimes in opposition to, or in
contradiction of, the so called “real world.” 
Pieces of the discourse denounced here began well over a half century ago
when John von Neumann
and his band were conceiving, designing and building the original computer—the
“hardware” they called its contents “the digital universe.” See George Dyson, TURING’S CATHEDRAL: THE ORIGINS OF THE DIGITAL UNIVERSE 2012)

Speaking of a “cyber world”
makes it sound like there are two actual, independent, and irrevocably
distinct—quite separate—worlds. The phrase “cyberspace” does the same thing.  All of the phrases like these two create the
same problem. Often when this kind of thinking takes over, some users are
inclined to see one as somehow inferior to or weaker than the other, or the
thought pattern makes it seem to some thinkers, that there is another, separate
world that exists–an immaterial world but one without angels, ghosts, Plato’s
forms, plus numbers and the rest of pure mathematics. In fairness, I suppose I should concede that some philosophers use “space”-metaphors for relatively similar purposes.  Charles Taylor in his landmark book SOURCES OF THE SELF (1989) uses the phrase “moral space” to talk about it being possible to reason, conceive, formulate different theses, positions, ideas, and so on. In is view, a philosophical system regarding ethics and morals that does not have a “moral space” is pinched, idea-less, dogmatic, incapable of philosophical imagination, and so forth.  In this context, Taylor also uses the idea of a “moral horizon, and idea that is obviously connected to the idea of moral space.” 

(Wait a second.  If this idea is conceptually similar to
Dante’s poetry, someone might be prone to jump the other way. They might say
things like, “No wonder we don’t see much of 
witches around here.  No wonder
science has falsely declared that there are no witches.  They didn’t know where to look and how to
think.  Times have changed. We live in
the modern world.  Maybe the so-called
scientists have gotten it wrong because we couldn’t—and therefore
didn’t–realize that witches travel with data, not on broom
handles.”  These kinds of transformations
of superstition have happened repeatedly in human history.)
Handled in the right sort of way, perhaps my concerns are
exaggerated.  Or perhaps they are simply
academic. It might be said that it is overblown to be worried about mistakenly
transposing metaphors into literal language which is taken to be actually
descriptive and which, therefore, generates metaphysical falsehoods shaping
brains and lives.  “Apparently,” it might
be said, “that fellow Quinn doesn’t have enough to do and is not in
contact with the real world, as opposed to his fantasy world, is pacing around
on a cloud, and has no conception of the requirements of the pragmatic.
Some might find this criticism
attractive, but it has holes in it.  For
one thing, the contrast between the “real world” and a “fantasy world” is
strikingly different from the contrast between “real world” and “cyber
world.”  In the first pair, there is no
suggestion of there literally being two actual independent worlds as it
were side-by-side. The first pair turns on the idea that Quinn’s connection
with the world we all live in is faulty—or that he is disconnected from the
world even he lives in. 
Second, the use of a phrase
that was new to the language long ago, but used still today, suggests how unhinged
Quinn and his cronies are, and that phrase is “New World.”  The image is of Christopher Columbus sailing
the ocean blue and bumping into Brazil, or somewhere like it, and thereupon
calling what he found the (or a) “New World,” whereupon the phrase spread
quickly and became a catch phrase that no one thought much about. No one who
was not radically superstitious and an ounce of good sense ever thought of what
Chris found and then described as indicating the existence anything like a
cyber world, that is. The new “world” to
the west was an outlier, in some sense, but it was not a metaphysical outlier.  It was simply a big piece of land a long way
away with strange yet untasted eatables and even stranger people. Anyone who
thought about it immediately knew that it was quite literally in a “special”
space, one fixed and at a very long distance but that it was not a special,
new kind of space embodying new
kinds of spaces.
To put the same point a
little differently, it seems likely to me that it was understood immediately
that the phrase “New World” did not refer literally to a separate and
metaphysically different “place.” 
Indeed, one which generated burning excitement; many of the more elite
populace considered sending their adventuresome servants over for a “look see,”
bringing home a diary, new fruits, new vegetables, and perhaps a slave or
two.  So what am I worried about?  One minor thing is that everyone knew that
the “Americas” were solid tangible, objects and not,  new “realms,” metaphysically distinct from
what they already had, and what we now have.
Of course, it must be
admitted that there is a sense in which the Internet and the rest of the cyber
world is a “new world.”  However, this
usage is used simply to suggest that the cyber world is new to the human
consciousness because many of us have never imagined such a thing.The
coming of the telephone was like that, as were the uses of antiseptic for
infections and anesthesia for surgery.

I am not the only source of doubt.   Interestingly, some courts have, at least intuitively, recognized to be shy of using this language.  On June 19, 2014, Justice Thomas writing for a 9-0 court (granted there were 3 concurring Justices) wrote this”The fact that a computer ‘necessarily exist[s] in the physical, rather than purely conceptual realm is beside the point.'” Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd v. CLS Bank Int’l [et al], 214 WL 2765283, ___ U.S. ___ (2014).(This is a patent case regarding the eligibility for a patent involving the use of computers in providing risk management for  reciprocal and parallel transactions at a financial clearing house.  In a way, this is a system of insurance for two parties at once where the peril is that one of them  (or a group of them) may breach a contract of engagement the other (or others).)  Notice that Justice Thomas avoids phrases like “cyber world.”   

(I wonder if some—but only
some–of today’s concern about how existing law and jurisprudence will fit the
cyber world, a completely different kind of “New World,” is not generated by
some serious concern about metaphysical divergence.  Of course, some of the concerns would exist
even if the new world of the cyber world were just like the new world of  Christopher  and many of the others in Europe who could
read, think, or do both could. What we have today is a new, “new world,” but
which has quite different characteristic.)
There were, as us well
known, superstitious people in those days—probably more than today—who saw the
idea of a “new world” in metaphysical terms. 
There was, after all, a heaven and a hell, and—of there may actually be
such “places,” but that is a wholly different. 
No one thinks that God Himself resides in the Cyber-World, or His
opponent, for that matter. Of course, none of this gibberish was in any way
connected to the language Chris generated amongst the royals, then the elite,
then the risk loving merchants, and so on “down” the line.
The idea contained in the
phrase “virtual world” has few virtues either, despite its established usage.
That phrase is too close to the phrase “virtuous world,” and so has an extra
danger in it: the dangers metaphysical and distorted free association.  It strikes me as at least as dangerous as the
other phrases.  This point is complicated, a little by the fact that the term “virtuous,” when used in the phrase “virtuous circle”  can mean something entirely different again than “virtuous world.” A virtuous circle is a phrase used in micro-economics and business to refer to the circle ones finds in textbooks showing how flows of actions or ideas can improve an operation.  Interestingly, there is such a thing as a “vicious circle,” picturing roughly the reverse activity.” See Verizon v. Federal Communications Commission, 740 F.3d 623, 628 (D.C., Cir. 2014) where there is a brief use of the phrase.

In Bragg v. Linder Research, Inc. there was a dispute over property in “virtual property. Judge Eduardo Robreno, D.J., remarked that “While the property and the world where it is found are ‘virtual,’ the dispute is real.” 487 F.Supp. 593 (E.D.Pa. 2007).  He goes on to say, “The virtual world at issue is an interactive computer simulation which lets its participants see, hear, use, and even modify the simulated objects in the computer-generated environment.” (Emphasis added.) Not bad Judge. Nota bene: no “New World.” No new space.

Update: So far as “virtuality” and “virtuesness” are concerned, see Anand Giridharadas, “Museums See Virtue in Virtual Worlds,” Weekend Arts II, NYT C17 (August 8, 2014). (Marvelous pictures included.)

Another One: There is another widely used pair of phrases that are widely used in all sorts businesses, and in other activities., e.g,, political, economic, law practice, etc. The names of this pair are “virtuous circle” and “virtuous cycle.” For each of these there is an opposite” “vicious circle” and “vicious cycle.”  One dictionary gives this as a definition of “virtuous circle”:”a beneficial cycle of event or incidents, each having a positive effect on the event.”

Yet Another:  I may have to give up on my opposition to this corruption of the language. A few days ago I went to the public library in Austin Texas, and there was a “business card” calling upon the citizens to “Visit the Virtual Library”–Download eBooks, eAudiobooks, magazines, movies and music. And the card provides an eAddress: Now I want this. I guess I have to give up and end my rant. (May 7, 2015–Is it symbolic that I am giving up on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of teh Lusitania? Probably not).

The definition is wrong.  Suppose there are 5 events, and the first 4 would contribute to a satisfactory result, but #5 has no effect. It neither improves the flow or diminishes it; it neither speeds up the process, nor slows it down.  It is completely neutral. Yet it is still part of the circle; why might be anybody’s guess. However, this fact undercuts the definition, although not the general idea. These phrases are widely and there is a weak literature on mostly intended for college biz courses or M.B.A. programs.   So the interested reader may find it helpful to start with WIKIPEDIA. It’s presentation is understandable; there are some cites; and there are lots of diagrams.

 Mostly it is though of as a presentational device for lectures and the like, and this is true.  But it is also a helpful planning and thought device. It is no doubt perfectly obvious to the reader that these–the virtuous–devices can be used in either the “virtual”–the “cyber”–“world and in the so-called “real world.”

Little has been written about the “vicious circle” or the “vicious cycle.  It seems to me false to think of any defect in a “virtuous circle” making it into a “vicious circle.” And there is no substantial literature on the concept.  It seems to me that it would be a “virtuous circle” undertaken to achieve a evil purpose (or evil end state).  It might also be though of as a cycle designed to render someone else’s goals impossible (or very unlikely) to achieve. Thus, as with lots of things, there are degrees of a circle’s being vicious.

I wonder if some—but only
some–of today’s concern about how existing law and jurisprudence will fit the
cyber world, a completely different kind of “New World,” is not generated by
some serious concern about metaphysical divergence. Can one think about cyber
copyright problems as being in the same conceptual scheme as copyright is
thought about in the real world? It looks like it to be sure, but will that
hold?  One knows now, well in advance of
the plethora, that many lawyers will be stretching out the differences between
the two worlds. Of course, some of the concerns would exist even if new world
of the cyber world were just the new world of 
“’Columbian’ Rhetoric.”
In reality, there is only
one actual world, the real world.  There
are not two worlds or two conceptual kinds of spaces.  The football field is a real world space, and it
has distance.  There is no such thing as
space without distance.  This is even
recognized in “cyber world talk.” 
Discussions of hacking are invariably about where the hack come from and
how is it got to the hacked.  Did it
begin in China, Romania, Uganda, or Cleveland? 
Did it travel through Bolivia on its way to Amarillo where the hacked
insurance company keeps its new paperless archives? (Wait! Why is there is any
place at all for these archives?   There be no place? Is it true that there are
cyber clouds and that they too in no
particular place; indeed, not in any place at all? What about the corporate
headquarters of Hyberactivities, Inc.? Need it be in a particular place? Might
not corporations find their “homes” in cyberspace? And on and on.) 
Even if this critique is
entirely true, which it is, it is also good to remember that the phrases under
discussion can be useful metaphors for dealing with so-called real world
situations.  Thus, for the purpose of
military strategy it makes sense to think of different types of battlefields,
one of which is cyber.  This type of
thinking makes it possible to “stack,” as it were, battlefields vertically—one
battlefield on top of another. But this is only for strategic thinking purposes–a
place where the imagination is necessary. 
Of course, it is also true that the idea that there are layers of
various things to be found in physical space, but they are all tangible.
 It is easy enough to guess why the phrase
“cyber world” is now so widely used. From whence did the phrase cometh? Of
course, it’s origin was a device to get people to think of the real world as
having components that the population had not heard of, “thunk” about and
certainly not grasped.  That is not what
made the dangerous phrases so widely used without thought. One can think of
video games as involving separate worlds—that of the world of the game, and
that of another world or other worlds. 
One can easily think of players thinking of themselves as directing
actions in another world–the “world” of a video game.  But this is nothing but using the
Here is an alternative
example, though twisted in the opposite direction.  In 1984, in a journal entitled NECROMANCER,
William Gibson defined “cyberspace” as “A consensual hallucination experienced
daily by billions of legitimate operators.” Obviously, this idea is “crazy”: Consensual hallucination? Deliberate state of mind(s) like
, cyberspace as hallucination? Billions of people at once? Enormous crowds hallucinating jointly in unison? In harmony? With the same rhythm?
Really? Further,
if the “Gibson Definition”: were not itself nuts, or hilariously false, it
would attribute seriousness craziness to all users of the Internet. Certainly,
some video game users become over excited from time to time—some more than
others–and some of the players are addicted. These states of mind are not
hallucinatory, though some of the game players may actually be quite mad.  (The reader must keep in mind that 1984 is
not so long ago, even though a favorite buzz about the Internet, etc., makes it
sound like only very young ideas, say, formulated since 2010, are anything but
This kind of philosophical
(or, at any rate, academic) objection is too purist for the practical purposes
of the Big-Blog, so I shall write here like many others do. I will use phrases like
“cyber-world,” etc.,–language I denounce as intellectually dangerous–for the
sake of simplicity and the virtues of fitting in.  After all, my criticism is not really about
the language taken just by itself.  It is
about the ideas the language presents.  I
have no problem with discussing a dangerous idea; they can be refuted. My real
problem about cyber language is that it can seduce the mind into disruptive
ideas. It is not true that only sticks and stones can cause one harm.  Thus, I will use this dangerous language for
simplicity’s sake.  At the same time, the
reader should keep in minds that all I am doing is using this dangerous
phraseology, but not embracing its metaphysical connotations.

Now what has this got to do with insurance of that which, as it were, inhabits the the “digital domain,” the hidden beings in the “cyber fog,” provides coverages for the “walls” of the “cyber chat rooms”  and so forth?
The answer is simple, insurance disputes involve dependence on facts.  Facts must be described accurately and not using misleading language; facts are never described  using misleading language.  Description requires truth, just as facts do. In turn, insurance disputes involve contract language, discussions of it, laws, and legal principles, among other things. The accurate use of all these entails correct usage or explanation of the use of  language that sounds misleading.  The phrases “cyber world,” “cyber space” and all the others fit this patterns perfectly.

 There is another twist to this story, which may weaken the linguistic divides, but its meaning and use are not the sort of a real problem. There is a different, harmless phraseology which, in an of itself, is of no consequence when on considers the distressing phrasing discussed here. It might go like this, “In our Internet world, rapidity can create all sorts of problems. This need not be semantics of any concern, so long as it understood to mean, “our world now includes [or “contains”] contains the Internet.

There is no danger of this meaning embracing the idea of there being two worlds.  There being an “Internet world” might be quite different than ordinary usage, and the idea of there being an independent “cyber world” is of necessity very, very different.  There is all the difference in the world, as it were between dependence and independence.  One must keep in mind, however, that confusions about semantics and usages are are lurking behind every long paragraph, adaptive or innovative sentence, and even imaginative verse.  Some confusions are a good thing; others are not.

It must be conceded that sometimes the “[XXX]-space” analogy or metaphor works reasonably well. In his now famous book 1989 SOURCES OF THE SELF the philosopher Charles Taylor uses the idea of “moral space(s)” as the “regions” in which human beings conduct their moral perceptions, realizations, reasoning(s), and create a sense of self. One difference, however, is that there are not two related idea of “space” in his conceptualization. Even Taylor’s use may create a danger of confusion.  At  one point he talks of a when a person is aware of his own experience, aware of his own decisions, or makes decisions about how and why he makes his decisions, and he describes this as “that space where I am present to myself.” p. 131.

Mid 2015.  The Austin Public Library has a business card that says this: “Visit the VIRTUAL LIBRARY[.] Download eBooks, eAudiobooks, Magazines, Movies and Music.”  This is is not a “virtual library.” This is an actual library containing “things” from the cyber world which are called virtual things.  If the word “virtual” is taken to mean what it has always meant, X closely resembles Y, then the things in the actual library are not virtual eBooks, for example, they are actual eBooks. And it is false that eBooks are virtual books, they are quite different things the resemble one another in various way, such a this one: they are both objects, one tangible, one intangible whose essence is having or being a book.

Interestingly, one of the world’s most significant sources of “surface,” systematic information is WIKIPEDIA. It contains an article entitled “Virtual Law Firm.”  Maybe it exemplified both meanings: (1) almost but not quite a law firm, although it contains actual real lawyers rendering services, except for Zoom, and (2) a creature of the cyber-world only, which is clearly not true of Zoom. So, neither of these can be true, not even virtually. At the same time, there is also a squib entitled “Virtual Assistant” and bearing something like a substitute title “Virtual Office Assistant.”

There is significant metaphysics involved in all this regarding abstract entities and their existence. However, I give up.  I’ve had enough. The vocabulary of the “New World” has beaten me.  Perhaps there is virtue of some sort in resisting the destruction of the true meaning of “virtual.” Perhaps not. The thing of it is, when your in a hole, the first principle is to stop digging.  (I get this from the famous philosopher Lindsay Graham.)

The following did not result from digging. It was handed to me on a TV news show.  There is not something which is called a “virtual doctor visit.” It is a tele-medicine devise, whereby medical information in gathered together over the internet from a patient and then there is a phone call between doctor and patient. This was called a “virtual doctor-patient meeting.” This is true. In comparison to what has counted as a doctor-patient meeting or visit or appointment or examination, this kind of meeting is virtually the same as an old fashion face-to-face meeting, where a nurse might have met with the patient first or together with the doc. It was virtually the same.  However, it was not done in a virtual world. It was done in the real world.

I must also confess that the word “world” has diverse uses.  For example. philosophers and logicians have “forever” been talking about different possible worlds. This referred non-existent but but imaginable worlds. For an example of a current philosopher and logician, see Alvin Plantinga, WHERE THE CONFLICT REALLY LIES (Oxford 2011).

 I recently ran across a book on contract law entitled CONTRACTUAL GOOD FAITH written by Steven Burton. He talks about the “world of a contract.” What he is talking about is the contract interpreted in a non narrow, literal way, so that a reasonably knowledgeable person can imagine what what going on around the contract (or the contractual document) itself–what the general or even narrow practices were like–and therefore what the parties may have intended, especially where one or both parties had at least implied areas of discretionary performance. That is a sensible metaphor.

Originally posted on 06/19/2014 @ 10:14 pm

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc. (530)

One of Texas's leading insurance scholars, Michael Sean Quinn is a past chair of the Insurance Section of the State Bar of Texas and has a broad legal practice.

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