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PA R T 1

Chapter Two

Virtual Realities

Above Left: A ‘New World’ beckons.The journey of the human mind, imagination and creativity is led on the
serpentine thread or ladder of a digital pathway. The ‘pearl’ of knowledge begins at certain venues (not as
the pineal gland); the destination, global network. Catalogue for ‘Software Express’, 1994
Above Right: Blake’s ‘vision’ of a ladder from earth to the heavens, arrives at a central sun, 1790s. Alchem-
ically, it could be the solar sovereign that rules the Western alchemic transformation being travelled
towards. Nonetheless, as a psyche-ic image, it is replaced in a new era, above, the perspective being from
the heavens itself, cyberspace, looking back and tracing a pathway to the earth. The alchemic interpretation
is that the sovereign perspective, that which can encapsulate the world in a single glance was achieved in
the western mind-space containment as it wends its way towards earth from ‘space’.

We live amid the media-world McLuhan was beginning the tracing of, and my inter-
est is not forgetfulness in it, for I wish to be awake, not to be driven to ‘amnesia’
(Said, 1998); or by ‘noise’ (Thompson, 1991:28) even though ‘noise’ is part and par-
cel of the postmodern cultural (dare I say it, civilizational) fluids surrounding us:

Noise is the solvent of Renaissance individuality; it is the sound that does not grant

© Mary Ann Purcell-Ghaffurian 2002 1


the individual the space or solitude for wise or informed reflection... History is not
a text, and so recollection becomes the re-gathering of images and sounds, [at Disney
Worlds] of Jimminy Cricket or Tinker Bell ... Spaceship Earth ... Exxon’s Universe
of Energy ... General Electric’s Carousel of Progress .... as you hear majestic, David
Lean-sounding movie themes coming from the speakers hidden in the marigolds ...
a commercial from which there is no escape ... the prototype community in which
entertainment and not education molds the voter of tomorrow .... history becomes
a movie set that spatializes time [followed by] immersion into cyberspace ... of a full
body suit ... into virtual reality [for in] electronic media there is no historical past,
there is only an eternal present in which all time is going on now... Television ...
brings forth this new kind of public space, and calls into being this new world, not of
educated citizenry in a republic, but of the electropeasantry in the state of Entertain-
ment (Thompson, ibid. p.28-37).

The above quote refers to something of not only the difficulty to follow research in
the humanities traditionally, but of the cultural ambience. Such an ambience, while
‘fun’ also mocks alternate histories, for as Thompson says, history is ‘the shallow
present of an electronic-media society [as] substitute for a historical consciousness’
(p.36). Entertainment spatializes time and substitutes itself for any other kind of
experience other than it. This dense field of a media -sated atmosphere, thick with
images, sounds, and Imax large persuasions and projections is not irrelevant. Its
atmosphere surrounds and percolates into us and is one reason why we need to try to
apprehend experience other than it; to not lose sight of ‘history’, even if the project
seems bleak. The waters of this ambience or ‘noise’ is also ‘Entertainment’s’ expan-
sive ‘field of dreams’ in our heads - one aspect of the motile content inside Western
mind-space containers, whether conceived of as individual units or as overarching
structure and cultural content in which units of consciousness float. The effect is
‘spacey’ and gives to the indulging mind a sense of the freedom of boundarylessness,
yet it is a hyper-spatial medium or matrix crisis-crossed by invisible grids, the Eucli-
dean frame ministered by a logic, numbers. (See Chapter Three also).

Time and space, rather than being a free zone, something like ‘eternity’ which the
powers of ether connections seem to impart, along with omniscience and omnipres-
ence, are captured into two metaphoric containers. The first is the perspectival cone
and the second is the tunnel through which mind, light, consciousness and being
travel to destinations never arrived at, but ever whispered, ever promised, for the
ambit in which they function is the irreal. What is more, the perspectival container
captures attention and maroons it (without introspective reflection or a deeper
enquiring mind) into the other facet of its imprisonment, a certain view of history
which the encapsulation both moulds into consciousness, insinuates by its omnipres-

© Mary Ann Purcell-Ghaffurian 2002 2


ence, and underlies by its repetition and magnification and amplification over many

Left: Page from 'The Medium is the

Massage', McLuhan, 1967. 'The
Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy
Fool', Gary Wolf, Wired Jan.

Consciousness is caught, ensnared, like a butterfly in a net or in a bottle, captivated

there to fly within the ambit of its containment. In captivity, the mind, while being
within the three dimensional containment of time, space and history, because of the
seeming never-ending space of the virtual, senses freedom, open-endedness, space,
as if it already tasting and existing in a time-space free zone of freedom, even a fourth-
dimensional zone of absolute freedom in which itself is no longer trammelled. Such
are the seductive illusions of the virtual, which in a real world of manifold problems,
seems to provide the panacea and escape.

In terms of this thesis enquiry, such illusions are not necessarily leading to conscious-
ness awakening, but potentially to a deeper immersion, miring, into a cultural matrix
and context which is already dualistic, divided, spreading mind ever-thinner over the
cortex of the world-body. At the same time, deeper associations that mind might seek
or invite, of ‘wholeness’, healing, of mind and nature, spirit and flesh, body and soul,
remain vacuous idealism evaporating on a drying shore (as hyper-space fills and
swells the void where the world-body, and other histories, once was).

This, it is contended is the dominant time, space and historic container in which the
cultural context leaves mind and consciousness, to swim like a fish in the invisible
medium it cannot see, it so much a part of its moment-to-moment immersed reality
and being (Hill, 1988). Marie Antionette once said of the masses that they eat cake,
our cake is hyper-real containment. If it were only ‘cake’ the negotiation of life’s

© Mary Ann Purcell-Ghaffurian 2002 3


tricky existential questions, the deepening of consciousness, to acquire depth (rather

than an ever-broadening pond that never meets the river or the sea) might be ever-
quickening. But instead, immersion into the metaphoric mind-tank only appears to
get thicker and more opaque, mimicking depth, while the great divide of mentality
and nature, speculatively, grows into more of a chasm, threatening the awakening of
consciousness, and bearing upon us potentially more and more of the weight of the’
history as nightmare context’, not its ultimate relief.

The cultural context of ‘virtual realities’, replacements, are explored in this chapter; it
is a non-exhaustive assessment of a dominant context consumers (the public) are
exposed to in the context of daily living, while also considering some of the minds
that are a driving force.

Left: 'Simply vivid. TV so real,

you'll get too close. … so simple.
Simply Samsung.’ The screen of
a television provides a mirror
reflection in which a woman is
seen as both hugging a screen
and her own image, even
though she does not look at her-
self. The self-love is eroticized as
a need of the human for the
machine. (Wired Jan. 1996:18-

Soft Space - Immersion, Opacity and Forgetting

A love-affair is being promoted in the public (the consumer’s mind, ‘us’) of sportive
possibilities of multiple minds suggested by magic windows of computers into many
worlds, urged on by entrepreneurs of new technological means of entertainment,
diversion and refurbishment of old identities in new ways. We are being tempted to
merge our minds with our machines, potently induced by images of eroticism and
sexuality surrounding the inanimate nonsentience of devices, coupled with the seduc-
tive invitation to enter a borderless and boundaryless world of imagination, rich in
fantasy. An individual who has difficulty negotiating the world of ‘RL’ (real life) with-
out slipping into a sense of its turgid superficiality, or over the borderlines and into
black holes of dark imagination, in general, is not expected to solve his or her existen-

© Mary Ann Purcell-Ghaffurian 2002 4


tial problems through the exploration of subminds in MUDS (multiple user dun-
geons, where one communicates to others via text on screen over the Internet, and
where hundreds of people at a time from different places may be logged on to differ-
ent or the same ‘rooms’ of any one MUD).

Although mid 1990s human-digital technology interfaces are fast being sedimented
down as they are replaced by faster and more updated replacements, the technology-
text is still useful to follow as dependency becomes accentuated and forms of minds
in space are explored further.

The anonymity of ‘MUDS’ gives people the chance to express multiple and often
unexplored aspects of the self, to play with their identity and try out new ones ... in
MUDS one can be many.

A 21-year old college senior defends his violent characters as ‘something in me; but
quite frankly I’d rather rape on MUDs where no harm is done.’ A 26-year old cler-
ical worker says, ‘I’m not one thing, I’m many things. Each part gets to be more fully
expressed in MUDS than in the real world’. In real life, this woman sees her world
as too narrow ... Creating screen personae is thus an opportunity for creative self-ex-
pression, leading to her feeling more like her true self when decked out in an array
of virtual masks.

MUDS imply difference, multiplicity, heterogeneity, and fragmentation [and] this

contradiction increasingly defines our lives beyond the virtual world. MUDS thus be-
come objects-to-think-with for thinking about postmodern selves.... Traditional ide-
as about identity have been tied to a notion of authenticity that such virtual
experiences actively subvert. When each player can create many characters in many
games, the self is not only decentered but multiplied without limit (Turkle, 1996).

The computer as calculator with associations of linear and logical programming, pro-
viding metaphors for the human rational models of thinking has been outmoded in a
computer technologized ‘postmodern aesthetic of complexity and decentering....
Technology is bringing postmodernism down to earth itself’ (Turkle, ibid.). It is argu-
able however that MUD’s (or other cyber ‘spaces’ where minds ‘dwell’ in the virtual
world of internet or web interconnection, particularly in ‘real time’) help us define
our lives ‘beyond’ the virtual world. Lives beyond the virtual world would simply be
more and more ‘virtualness’, once virtuality became the major ‘domain’ of defining
lives1. The ‘real’ earth-bound, solid molecular world in this context is not what is the
‘beyond’; it is rather what is ‘behind’, for it is out of molecular brain chemistry that
virtual worlds are imagined and projected outwardly into manifest technological reali-
ties and machines. Behind every machine is a human AI engineer. Importantly, the
original reasons for ‘virtual’ exploration and implementation were hardly pleasurable
ones. Cost-hungry experiments were rooted at first in military defence spending

1. An example of this might be the Timothy Leary internet site set up before his death and still operat-
ing. It remains a sort of semi-permanent mortuary, a home in space for the deceased which others can
visit as if he were still home, or still domiciled somewhere in space and listening in, not ‘departed’ at

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