love at the prompt
There will be reality simulators in cyberspace...
A fully-developed reality simulator will not be anything like an
arcade, or a theater you pay to enter, or a box that you crawl
into, or a helmet you put over your head, or anything else of
the kind, but will be a device capable of direct stimulation of
the neurons of the central nervous system. Genetic engineers
will have produced "cable ready" central nervous systems able to
gracefully accept the new sorts of inputs, and to create sensory
spaces out of that information in a manner similar to that in
which we presently "make a world" out of the inputs we receive
from our eyes, ears, and other bodily data sensors.
User outputs back to the machine, representing their choices,
will pass through the same interface, be computed by the machine
within the context of available rules, or algorithms, and will
produce new inputs to the user which will be perceived as
changes in the cyberspace environment.
Such latter-day reality simulators, networked together, will
produce for a potentially unlimited number of subjects, or
"players," perceptual experiences in cyberspace
indistinguishable from those which they would have enjoyed under
normal circumstances in the "real" world, and hence,
alternative, fully interactive, cyberspatial lives
in alternative, "virtual" realities.
Operating in "non-default" modes, the machines will generate
alternative realities which may ressemble the "real" world very
little, if at all.
Entry into and exit from cyberspace environments
environments as we have called them
may or may not be at the
option of the player. In any case, there will be no indicators
from within the synthetic environment, such as a give-away lack
of visual resolution, or "beeps" every thirty seconds, which
would identify the cyberspace environment as such, and hence no
inclination based upon any perceived deficiency of that
environment which might induce us to jump out of it, and back
into the parent environment. Players will be as happy as clams
within cyberspace, indefinitely.
The truth of the matter is that players will prefer cyberspace.
We see this in the ten-year-old who refuses supper while in the
midst of a game of Dungeons and Dragons. The latter is urgent,
compelling and captivating; the former is not.
We see this in the "chat" participant on an electronic Bulletin
Board System (BBS)
let's say his name is John Abrams
affirmatively re-fashions his identity and personality within
the "chat" using a surrogate name such as "john138," or more
tellingly still, "sweetie." Bye, bye, John Abrams; hello,
john138. Hello, sweetie.
Operators of BBSs will confirm that it is the interactive
applications such as "chat," or real-time conferences, or
on-line games, which draw the users like lemmings. Interactive
computer applications are like mirrors held up before the user
in which the user looks good, or can be made to look good with a
little tweaking. They "call" to the user in seductive voices.
The users respond by jumping in.
As the sophistication of the computer interface increases,
together with the refinement or "resolution" within the
cyberspace environment, the felt need to enter that environment
and to redefine oneself within it seems to soar as well. A step
up from the computer "chat" session on Compuserve or
America-On-Line brings us to the level of the now-trendy MUDs,
or MOOs, which are multi-user adventures, or social forums, in
which the players are encouraged to take on new identities, and
to animate these surrogate forms by typing text onto a computer
The level of fanaticism exhibited by players in these
cyberspaces, and the level of devotion shown by the players to
their game personalities, ignoring by choice their "real world"
identities, is well known, and has already become the subject of
professional study and, in some cases, concern.1
For Narcissus, the machine interface was the surface of a quiet
pond; for us it's a computer cursor blinking just to the right
of our chosen name in the game. In both cases, the human
response is identical. We are clearly fascinated by our
cyberspatial reflections, and are powerfully drawn to them.
Only, unlike Narcissus, we have our hands on a working joystick,
allowing us to manipulate and re-work the reflected image in
accordance with our preferences. The joystick is the gasoline on
Cyberspace emits a siren call which we choose not to resist.
Instead, our response to that siren call is instinctual,
affirmative, and compliant. We focus happily on our reflected
image, immobilized in all other respects. We identify with it.
This is a most basic, compulsive and essentially erotic sort of
human behavior designed to extend, duplicate and propagate a
view of ourselves into the great black beyond. The god of
cyberspace is Eros.2
If it is Eros that beckons us inside the machine, it is a far
more results-oriented, pragmatic god that urges us to stay
there. Mainly, you can do more things in cyberspace. Once our
central nervous systems are put in direct contact with digital
renditions of the universe
with the universe understood as
information, not substance and laws
what's possible and what's
not is determined by computer programmers alone.
Travel to distant locations at the speed of light becomes
possible. So does time travel into the past, and into the
All plausible reasons for spending some "quality time"
in a machine, and not on a beach.
There's absolute freedom and privacy in cyberspace, assuming
that the First Amendment holds up, that the cybercops keep the
hackers under control, and that the passwords are not
Lovers, for example, will need no longer to seek out the
secluded park bench, but will tryst in comfortable, electronic
love nests instead. This may have the effect of preserving
certain real-world marriages against otherwise discoverable
Mafiosi will no longer need to meet in fenced-off Catskills
resorts to contemplate their next mischief, but will smoke their
Cuban cigars and sip their aqua minerale in private,
three-dimensional conference spaces guarded by
infallible Bot lieutenants.
Seats of government will no longer have geographical
coordinates, but URL locators within a computer matrix instead.
There will be a lot more room to do things.
All these features notwithstanding, the prospect of compulsive,
headlong dashes into machine space by a great number of
citizens, and the apparent galaxy of pragmatic reasons for their
anticipated refusals for leaving it, once inside, have got a lot
of people worried. The underlying sentiment seems to be this:
that life in the machine
any machine, no matter how advanced
will inevitably be impoverished and debased by comparisons to
life outside the machine in respect of the ineffables of human
existence. Aboriginal instincts, unconscious drives and
motivations, melancholy, existential despair, romantic love,
gumption, spiritual enlightenment, and so forth, are all
examples of perhaps non-programmable yet quintessential features
of what it means to be a human being. Absent these, you have a
society in a downward spiral of self-willed decline
human beings satisfied with the stainless steel life of a
Cyborg, saints replaced by mechanical Wizards, and God reduced
to the status of the owner of a computer server.
These people may in fact have something to worry about. If by
"an ineffable" we mean something that cannot exist inside a
machine, and if there are such things as ineffables, then we're
in deep trouble. We're headed for a hollowed-out, desiccated and
dehumanized form of human existence which will make the Dark
Ages appear glorious by comparison.
The question is, of course, whether or not we have any right to
define "an ineffable" as something that cannot exist in a
machine. There may be no such things. To do so begs the very
question we're trying to answer.
However, this sort of anxiety is groundless in any event. It
assumes that any argument in favor of expanded (and inevitable)
life experiences in cyberspace depends upon the truth of a claim
which is not being made; namely, that all there is in cyberspace
worlds is information
numbers, cyphers, and computers. Why
anybody, with the exception of a few notable science fiction
writers and their over-zealous glamorizers, would want to make
such a claim after several hundred years of disappointing
haggling over the mind-body problem and the clear irreducibility
of consciousness to any one set of reductionist terms, is beyond
me. In any case, no such claim is being made.4
We are prepared
to encounter all the imponderables, ambiguities and old
chestnuts in cyberspace. (If we don't, the algorithms are
incomplete, and the whole mess goes back to the programmers for
Certainly, for those of us who may be animating characters in a
machine, as players, whatever it is that now leads us to react
in such and such a way to certain sensations will impact us
identically if the only difference is that the sensations are
delivered by a machine, and not in the usual manner.
Provide me with a machine-generated onslaught of sensations
which, in the normal course, would make me feel melancholy, and
I'll feel melancholy in the machine. Ineffably melancholy, to
Produce a sensorium in cyberspace similar to those which make me
feel creative in the "real world," and I'll create something for
you in cyberspace, crediting the creative instinct and the
mysteries of creative activity in the usual, inconclusive
Give me the opportunity to define my self image further within
the machine (as for example playing an interactive game within
the game), and I will exhibit the same old compulsive erotic
behavior anew, and want to play more deeply still. Yes, there
will be reality simulators in cyberspace, and synthetic people
lined up to jump into them. Eros will exist in cyberspace, as
certifiably as anywhere else, provided only that the requisite
sensations are provided to the players.
Whether the Bots and the Cyborgs in the machine are animated in
by ineffable drives, compulsive behaviors and the
is probably an unanswerable question, although we will
certainly be able to make it appear that they are. As for Eros,
simply render the state of the central nervous system of an
entranced Narcissus in digital form, and, using this
information, impose that state of the central nervous system
upon the Bot or Cyborg in all those instances where visible signs of
the entranced erotic response are required. The machine-driven
constructs will save
the template information in a buffer, and, through heuristic
programming techniques, "learn" to exhibit the required
responses in the appropriate circumstances. Are Bots and Cyborgs
erotic creatures? Are they aware of themselves as erotic creatures,
or aware of themselves at all? That's just another old chestnut, as
annoying here within the machine as it was when it was referred
to in the "real world" as the "problem of other minds." We'll
live with it.
I'm not so sure that it
matters that much. If, to beg the question in the opposite
direction, it's a machine we're in now, we may already have
Bots, Cyborgs and Wizards in our very midst in the form of angels saints,
saviors, gurus, and miracle-workers, and if due to their
exalted, other-worldly status they are not in fact given to
lusts, uncontrollable instincts, existential despair and the
other ineffables, it makes the place no less human for the rest
of us. More interesting, instead.
Likewise for all other cyberspaces.
Cf., McRae, Shannon, Coming Apart at the Seams: Sex, Text and
the Virtual Body. 1995.
Michael Heim, who I think originated this insight, warns us
that this compulsive preference for cyberspatial existence is
dehumanizing, and poses obvious threats to the society in which
we live. He goes on to suggest that it involves a paradox, or
contradiction in terms, since there is in his view no room for
Eros in cyberspace, but only numbers, information, and
computers. Cf., The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace.
Cf., Being-there, now,
Being-there, then, and
Being-there, later, in this volume.
Nor would it work. The old galling mysteries are inevitably
rediscovered within the new view of things, in drag. In his
hilarious attack on the new info-reductionists, who he calls
"zombies," cyber-guru Jaron Lanier asks, knowing the answer,
"Could `information' just be a shell game that hides the nut of
old-style consciousness?" Cf., You Can't Argue with a Zombie,
© 1993, Gilbert Scott Markle.