Thoughts on VR, Angels’ Wings, Epistemology and the Nature of Reality

The choice of which information is worthy of attention and which is to be overlooked or which is never even sensed (e.g. the magnetic forces of the poles)  are the foundation for what people consider “reality”. These decisions are so ingrained and so rapid that they occur mostly subconsciously, becoming perceptible only in some kinds of meditation (e.g. mahamudra/watching the mind).

“Crazy” is a privileging of other kinds of information in lieu of or in addition to what we habitually take as validly “real”.  I think of Rilke’s comparison of angels and crazy people in Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Angels are aware of all information, and aware of the illusory/relative nature of all the categories of knowledge that humans consider relevant or irrelevant. Artists are some place in between. Their association with both the divine and the abject is epistemological. 

Meister Eckhart’s prayer that we rejoice in a state wherein the highest angel and the soul and the housefly are equal is an invocation of divine knowing beyond human categories of reason. To us humans, such a logic necessarily seems perverse… (see more on perversion below). This will be the guiding principle for the next VR episode of Queerskins, which I am currently drafting. 

Technology, especially VR, has the ability to ACTUALIZE THE AESTHETIC NATURE OF ALL REALITY, while allowing us to negotiate the evolving relationship between our still embodied state with its million year old codes that we call genes.. Unfortunately, I fear that technological nihilsm which clings to an ever more powerful, augmented, and immortal self is easier to embrace than the mess of bodies and their fluids.

Daily Mail | We’ll be uploading our entire minds to computers by 2045 and our bodies will be replaced by machines within 90 years, Google expert claims

June 19, 2013

Daily Mail — June 19, 2013 | Victoria Woollaston

This is a summary. Read original article in full here.

Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, believes we will be able to upload our entire brains to computers within the next 32 years, an event known as singularity.



What does it mean to upload a brain? It seems to me a desperate attempt to escape the logic of embodiment which is birth, aging and death. To quote from my manifesto from Reconstructing Mayakovsky: “You cannot Google yourself to enlightenment.”

Bergson suggests that the information we humans privilege relates primarily to the body and to memory. This is a guiding principle for my interactive stories. For me memory can be broadly considered: genetic, cultural, personal, artistic (aesthetic codes, genre, archetype).

VR is powerful because of its ability to generate a sense of presence–a feeling of being in THIS time and THIS place.  Although there are many definitions, the one that most intrigues me is Riva’s version which builds on Damasio’s neuroscientific theories of self,   where presence is the earliest mechanism of consciousness by which we separate self and other and internal sensations from the external world. This process of formation of self and the sensation of presence depends upon an organism’s action in the world. But, what happens if forming selves online and virtually,  we are no longer grounded in the real? It seems to me that we are substituting intensity of feeling  for the gravity of reality. This move from the truth of the exterior world and “objective” facts to the truth of the interior world and belief , which has become pervasive in our contemporary media inundated culture, is symptomatic of a loss of a defined, limited and stable sense of self and environment which digital technologies have promoted.

VR is perhaps the ultimate machine for this unsettling. The question is what is truth when gravity no longer holds us? When movement is virtual? How can the truth recover or, alternatively, be redefined in transcendence?  I think this is why we are seeing so many VR experiences related to dance. It is not just that movement generates presence.  It is  not just the recognition that body language is our primordial language, which machines as yet can neither read nor replicate in all its nuances. In VR we are  asking questions through the body in virtual environments.  Is some shared metamorphosis possible?

The quantum eraser experiment shows that asking the question restricts the variety of appearance of “answer”. The question constitutes a reduction of the suchness of a moment of consciousness, the answer thus goes from a blur of possibilities to discrete answers. “While delayed-choice experiments have confirmed the seeming ability of measurements made on photons in the present to alter events occurring in the past, this requires a non-standard view of quantum mechanics. If a photon in flight is interpreted as being in a so-called “superposition of states”, i.e. if it is interpreted as something that has the potentiality to manifest as a particle or wave, but during its time in flight is neither, then there is no time paradox. This is the standard view, and recent experiments have supported it.”[clarification needed][2][3]

What is the answer between wave and particle except movement? A state of flux with no fixed or final position?

The digital, in so far, as it promotes a binary thinking is problematic. But, the transcendent potential of computer technology comes from its logic/language which reveals the procedural and aesthetic nature of all reality. VR can offer a way to at least temporarily privilege a different logic, a different point of view or way of negotiating the self/ other boundary. The price of this logic is a loss of an intrinsic, narrowly defined and stable sense of self. But, we can still dress our empty selves as in Leonardo’s drapery drawings–a big influence on my thinking for Queerskins: ARK. download-2.jpgLeonardo’s drawings admit to the power of a body to shape the surrounding reality, but at the same time, the body would not appear were it not for the veil/cloth/queer skin.

Existence as form is predicated on a reduction of information that relates to embodied space (first cut is spatial) within a moment of consciousness (a second cut that brings in or generates time as such. ). It is these constrictions which allow form to appear at all. An ignorant consciousness does not recognize this process of cutting which is the basis for art nor the conditions of this cutting that lead to this form and relative cause and effect which is the basis for science. In some ways, art is truer than any reality because it is not shy about artifice or observer agency. In both art and science, cause and effect appear on a relative level, but what causes them to appear is an operation of mind. Only certain operations of mind–those that recognize constricted versions of cause and effect and reinforce these, are considered valid in our society. And, indeed within the constraints of the system, they are valid. BUT THE ACTUAL CAUSE IS THE PROCEDURAL CONSTRAINT, the act of cutting, ITSELF. This is why we mistake cause and effect for identity. In other words, the appearance of things and a self is a procedural reflection of subject object separation in the form of an image of the patterns of and attachment to certain habitual patterns of mind. The procedure is often mistaken for content, something existent in itself.

Unfortunately, graphic “realism” has become a goal in much VR. Not only, is this bound to be unsatisfactory (it will never be as good as the gold standard, which is reality). Moreover, it dismisses the true power of VR as a tool that reveals the process by which we construct reality as story mechanics.

Aesthetics is a form of cultural memory. Even what we consider “real” is a culturally imbued memory. In our VR stories, Cyril and I are especially interested in using technologies which capture the patina of time passing forward, or the glance backward of history, e.g. 3D scanning of objects and photogrammetry and our combining of 360˚ video with other forms of visual image is critical to our virtual storytelling. I look for moments where I can subtly disrupt the seamlessness of stories and, in doing so, ask participants to consider what is lost as we move from analogue to digital, and also to consider what changes when we capitulate to the limitations of technology.

The male is generally associated with logic but, in fact mathematics is no less aesthetic than painting. Mathematics is sublime because the constraint of thought is writ large and with the elegance of an economy of means. Art, on the other hand,  is an impossibly complex equation, which, nevertheless, follows a logic. But, rather than masquerade as “law” like mathematics,  –it manifests as rules of the game…  AND I WONDER IF THIS IS OUR FASCINATION WITH GAMES RIGHT NOW?

“As with chance, we must not forget the power of desire to engender logical monsters. ” and also

“Perversion’s power of fascination comes from a ritual cult
based on rules. The pervert is not someone who transgresses
the law, but someone who eludes the law in order to dedicate
himself to the rule, someone, then, who evades not just the
reproductive finality of the sexual order, but that order itself,
with its symbolic law, in order to link up with a regulated, ritualized, ceremonial form.”


FYI: I prefer earthly perversion any day over Kurzweil’s computer heaven. 

The metaphor I have come up with for my storytelling is the strange attractor–which look like angels wings–I gave a pair of these to the creator of my virtual post-apocalyptic world in Reconstructing Mayakovsky. They are massive wings grafted onto his back. He is in chronic pain and becomes addicted to morphine. He dies, well, let’s just say the surveillance cameras see a bird, diving Icarus-like to the street. download

“Strange attractors are unique from other phase-space attractors in that one does not know exactly where on the attractor the system will be. Two points on the attractor that are near each other at one time will be arbitrarily far apart at later times. The only restriction is that the state of system remain on the attractor. Strange attractors are also unique in that they never close on themselves — the motion of the system never repeats (non-periodic)”

The thing about creating a story based on strange attractors is that it can be locally chaotic but globally stable. SO, what can those strange attractors be when we start playing with reality in VR–because even if you are attempting to rewrite habitual concepts of self, body, and physics, you must give your participant something to ground themselves with, to orient their embodied and habitual reality, even while you loosen the grip, else there will be chaos, and most people won’t go there.

All that Heaven Allows

I choose character and genre specifically melodrama (Douglas Sirk is a muse) which offers the added bonus of strong emotions and overt artifice. (like Plato’s Phaedrus –“this story isn’t true.” which is the first line in Reconstructing Mayakovky.) Also, I pay meticulous attention to aesthetic codes. I want you to come with me willingly and leave from some place farther away than where you began. Moreover, this negotiation between “real” and “artifice” creates a space where you can see your own desire for certain kinds of information, certain narratives over others. This rupture creates a space for your own memory and imagination to operate.

The Master’s Bedroom–it’s worth spending a night there… Max Ernst’ drawing uses a box/room to contain his mis-scaled perverse collection of objects. His subversion of a familiar, domestic space with everyday objects  (he copied these from a mass produced teacher’s catalogue) that do not belong together spatially or content-wise, creates a mesmerizing and uncanny alternative logic, which inspired Queerskins: a love story. 


Max Ernst

Appreciate that a chair  or a bear is a moment of consciousness (complex, everchanging,  electrons, photons etc. ) It is only in attending to certain details and ignoring others that “chair”  or “bear” as such appears to exist.  In the space between 1 and 0, absolute and relative information, there is an a musical tone, a vibrational movement that is as complex as a taste. Godel’s incompletness theorems 

“Gödel specifically cites Richard’s paradox and the liar paradox as semantical analogues to his syntactical incompleteness result in the introductory section of “On Formally Undecidable Propositions in Principia Mathematica and Related Systems I“. The liar paradox is the sentence “This sentence is false.” An analysis of the liar sentence shows that it cannot be true (for then, as it asserts, it is false), nor can it be false (for then, it is true). A Gödel sentence G for a system F makes a similar assertion to the liar sentence, but with truth replaced by provability: G says “G is not provable in the system F.” The analysis of the truth and provability of G is a formalized version of the analysis of the truth of the liar sentence.”


What are the implications for AI and creativity as they relate to this necessity of incompleteness?

Once subject and object separation occurs (that earliest logic associated with the development of self and presence) then all knowledge is relative because there will always remain a hole, a void, an unknown, that can not be known without other, but other can never be completely known. That void of knowing is not nothing, rather I see it is a generative space akin to what Plato called khora,

So likewise it is right that the substance which is to be fitted to receive frequently over its whole extent the copies of all things intelligible and eternal should itself, of its own nature, be void of all the forms. Wherefore, let us not speak of her that is the Mother and Receptacle of this generated world, which is perceptible by sight and all the senses, by the name of earth or air or fire or water, or any aggregates or constituents thereof: rather, if we describe her as a Kind invisible and unshaped, all-receptive, and in some most perplexing and most baffling way partaking of the intelligible, we shall describe her truly.
— Plato, Timaeus, 51a[1]

and this is the space that gives birth to art.



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