The Journal of
Cognitive Liberties

This article is from Vol. 2, Issue No. 3 pages 9-29
All rights reserved worldwide.  ISSN: 1527-3946





 Virtual Spaces

Adrian Gargett

Lenny Nero, I can get you what you want. You just have to talk to me. I’m your priest, your shrink, your main connection to the switchboard of souls. I’m the Magic Man, the Santa Claus of the subconscious. You say it, you even think it, you can have it.
Strange Days (1995)

The velocity of contemporary existence has fundamentally transformed notions of perception.

As digitalized time ticks away, the mind has developed to cope with a phenomenological blizzard. We no longer appear to live in a real time experience but alternatively seem to exist in an immediate phospherent instant. Time cannot be conceived as linear and segmented, but multi-directional and deep.

And it begins: the journey centres around perception as the new organizing commodity of society. The seizure of the means of perception does not merely complement financial capital but ultimately renders capital, and capitalism itself, irrelevant.

With novel methods of lived perception in the new millennium, society spins headlong into the very brink of a dark vortex of digital virtuality. The contemporary instant can, and will, vanish entirely into that vortex.

The Agricultural Revolution initiated a seizure of the means of organic production. The Industrial Revolution absorbed the means of mechanical production. The Information Revolution integrated the means of symbolic production. But the post-symbolic Virtual Revolution is far more profound than any of these earlier disruptions, for it seizes the means of perception itself—the very means of cognition.

It now becomes possible to actually interrupt the stream of human consciousness, indeed to divert the enormous power of that stream to our own specific ends. The deepest reservoirs of human perception and consciousness can be diverted at will, changing the traditional patterns of consciousness with the “McLuhanesque” abruptions of a channel-break for commercials—or the finger on the remote control.

Perceptual tests reveal that the human mind derives its impression of so-called “reality” through an astonishingly narrow and data-poor series of quick retinal impressions. This very limited visual tracking—commonly only ten to fifteen percent of our environment is ever subjected to a direct flow by the eyeball—is assembled into a seamless perception of reality by the optic centre of the brain (assisted by neural–net sub processing in the retina and optic nerve). These human organic, wet-ware visual processors like all processors, can be “hacked.”

With fractal compression techniques, it is entirely possible to cram more detail into an image than was present in the original image itself. There is no “image degeneration” with fractal compression—quite the opposite, the more the image is fractally manipulated, the more apparently “real” it becomes. Fractal imagery of this type possesses a virtual and perceptual “density” that a natural object cannot match. Fractal generated imagery/detail is not “accurate” detail, in the sense that it is not “true to the original.” The density of fractal detail is mathematically generated on location.

The virtual image is “better” than the real—and the human mind senses this superiority on an entirely unconscious level. The assisted digitalized image carries a “neural impression” of authenticity that overwhelms the human brain’s perceptual centres. Doubts fade into the algorithm on an entirely unconscious, organic, cellular level; vision becomes a conduit for the certainty of an electronically modified “reality.”

Beyond judgment—this is in some sense the last revelation. The entire ontological structure of Cartesian doubt is rendered irrelevant by neural-implant science. The fundamental cosmic constants of life and thought can now be directly engineered. Philosophy’s despotism with its predilection for Platonic-fascist top-down solutions is subverted. With the capacity to enhance the perceptual effect, our physical command over the means of perception and cognition are complete. Here, wet chemical and dry computer digital engineering converge.

Further possibilities investigate the capacity for augmenting mental functions by physically linking brain structures to external computer hardware. After locating a suitable neural connection site, hardware and software of a compatible format can be developed. The approach generates from straightforward augmentation, pointing to the additional possibility of gradually migrating memories, skills and personality encoded in fragile and bounded neural hardware to faster, more capacious and communicative, and less mortal external digital machinery—thus preserving and expanding the essential function of a mind, even as the nervous system in which it arose was lost. A mind and personality, as an information-bearing pattern, might thus be freed from the limitations and risks of a particular physical body to travel over information channels.

* * *

The modern city is no longer a living space filled with human characters. It is now an inorganic, anti-scenic, two-dimensional space of information flows and signs. Instantly, junks of information flash across screens. The so-called “living reality” is becoming more sparse day by day. The city is an abstract space where all types of symbols and signs intersect and co-exist.

The over-expansion of the information circle rather than the over-contraction of the living circle forms our daily experience. Home, shut up in a narrow space we consume information: TV/PC/24 hr streams. “Living reality” is getting thinner, while information flies, swarms, proliferates. Information about war in the Middle East has the same value as that in commercials of instant noodles and financial services.

Increasingly we lack experience in direct contact with others. Only in the consumption of information can we get “existential” experience.

The horrors felt by urban cities are not derived from the bloody murders frequently occurring in reality, though such events happen everywhere at every time.

People “get in touch with information, not with each other.” And so necessarily answer spatial questions when constructing present urban knowledge.

The city is an active force in constituting bodies, and always leaves its traces on the subject’s corporeality. Correspondingly the dramatic transformation of the city as a result of the information revolution has direct effects on the inscription of bodies. In The Overexposed City, Paul Virilio elaborates the tendency in cities today towards hyper-reality: the replacement of geographical space with the screen interface, the transformation of distance and depth into pure surface, the reduction of space to time, of the face-to-face encounter to the terminal screen.

On the terminal’s screen, a span of time becomes both the surface and the support of inscription, time literally…surfaces. Due to the cathode-ray tube’s imperceptible substance, the dimensions of space become inseparable from their speed of transmission. Unity of place without the unity of time makes the city disappear into the heterogeneity of advanced technology’s temporal regime.1

The implosion of space into time, the transmutation of distance into speed, the instantaneousness of communication, the collapsing of the workspace into the home computer system, clearly has major effects on the bodies in the city. The subject’s body will no longer be disjointedly connected to random others and objects through the city’s spatio-temporal layout, it will interface with the computer, forming part of an information machine in which the body’s limbs and organs become interchangeable parts. This results in the “transbreeding” of the body and machine. The machine adopts the characteristics attributed to the human body (“artificial intelligence”—automatons). The human body takes on the characteristics of the machine (the cyborg, bionics and computer prosthesis). It is certain that this will fundamentally transform the ways in which we conceive both cities and bodies, and their inter-relations.

In The System of Objects2 Jean Baudrillard suggests that “the ambition of objects is to act as replacements for human relationships” and that objects and technics can be perceived “as substitute answers to human conflicts.” He is in essence talking about the principle of displacement and containment—in other words we transfer onto technology our desires and our fears.

In discussing artificial intelligence, Baudrilliard describes how we watch the fruits of our imaginings and because “the automated object” “works by itself” its resemblance to the autonomous human being is unmistakable, and the fascination thus created carries the day. We are in the presence of a “new anthropomorphism.” We watch it doing what we do—the technical object is the projection of our efficiency, it is “as our own image.”

There will no longer be clear distinctions between human and machine. Computers—neural implants—can be directly applied to the human brain. Neural implants will be available that interface directly to brain cells. The implants will enhance sensory experience and improve memory and thinking. With advance brain scanning the entire organization, including the brains memory, can then be re-created on a digital-analogue computer. With complete detailed maps of the computationally relevant features of the human brain these designs can be re-created in advanced neural computers.

* * *

Time. Uncertain, uncontrollable. Sometimes yesterday becomes like last year, and last year becomes like yesterday. Here, time becomes episodic, scattered.

The crisis of perception, the automation of perception threatens our understanding. The synthetic image is essentially a “statistical image” that can only emerge thanks to rapid calculation of the pixels a computer graphic system displayed on a screen. In order to decode each individual pixel, the pixels immediately surrounding it must be analysed. The usual criticism of statistical thought—generating rational illusions—thus necessarily comes down to what we might call the visual thought of the computer, digital optics now being scarcely more than a statistical optics capable of generating a series of visual illusions, rational illusions, which affect our understanding as well as reasoning.

* * *

Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) is set in Los Angeles, during the last two days of the year 1999. Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is an ex-cop who deals “clips” for the illegal market of the Squid—a machine which records on diskette the wearer’s perceptions during a lived experience. A consumer/user may subsequently replay the diskette, “re-experiencing” the same event upon all perceptual levels. As Lenny explains to a new client, “This is not like TV only better. This is life. Pieces of somebody’s life. Pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex.”

The narrative makes a neat and clever analogy for philosophical considerations of consciousness: the realm of the actual versus the virtual, the ways in which the mind might be disturbed, refracted, re-created, by a variety of technological energies and wavelengths through the cerebral cortex’s transpositions by means of electrical impulses to synaptic tissues and cellular matrixes, in addition to the role of subjectivities or singularities within the auspices of consciousness (it has been substantiated scientifically, that drugs like LSD have had similar liminal effects on the brains mechanisms, its cellular structures and synaptic mechanism). The very realm of fantasy becomes “mind-blowing,” literally-real, in the possibilities for mind distortion and virtual engagement beyond and outside the exigencies of the real. The techno-euphoria of cyberspatial virtual reality and video-playback are extended through the direct mainlining of the cerebral cortex, rather than the computer/TV screen as hardware. The cerebral cortex becomes the body, becomes the machine, fed by the arteries/cerebral tissues, which operate as channels, tuned into the drug-like contamination of the software clips, played through a miniature play-back device, as small as a computer mouse. Drugs through cyberspatial technologies—a literal on-line source.

* * *

Strange Days becomes emblematic of the contemporary condition. Reality has becomes unstable. Human beings can only verify their “real” status via memory clips of experienced events—the contrast allowing orientation in present living time-space. Are we in such a condition? Do we fetishize the memory because so much else has become dubious? Is it impossible to distinguish a truthful narrative from the “fictive” in memories? Reality begins to dissolve into the fantasy world of consuming images.

As religious plays designed to reveal the mystery of transcendence to men, the earliest theatrical forms were indeed the organization of appearances of their time. And the process of secularization of the theatre supplied the models for later, spectacular stage management. Aside from the machinery of war, all machines of ancient times originated in the needs of the theatre. The crane, the pulley, and other hydraulic devices started out as theatrical paraphernalia; it was only much later that they revolutionized production relations. It is a striking fact that no matter how far we go back in time, the domination of the earth and of man seems to depend on techniques which serve the purpose not only of work, but also illusion.3

In a world that is becoming increasingly virtual, a transmitted projection of material “reality,” comprehending the transmission and control of the projection is to control the world and, with that, the “secrets” of identity and malleability of corporeal matter. For anything, any belief, adhered to and given “mythic” form can become manifestly solid and tangible. What is believed can come to pass; nothing can exist that one does not believe in. At this point consciousness is not centred in the world of form, it is experiencing the world of content.

This is in some sense the last “secret,” not that secrets themselves are impossible in an information society, but that the entire ontological structure of Cartesian doubt has been rendered irrelevant by Virtual Science. “Secrets” become meaningless. Paranoia is meaningless, conventional politics is meaningless and the entire desperate ordered structure of our lives has to be re-conceived.

It no longer matters who killed JFK, who or what initiated AIDS, who was responsible for global warming, who took the children, who crashed the banking system. Within the structural parameters of virtual engineering it is possible to consciously manipulate/manufacture the fundamental cosmic constants of life and thought. The command of the means of perception and cognition can be controlled.

The questions of responsibility are grave, and have to be faced directly. We must observe with complete alertness, with eyes and nerves attentive—as all that is solid “melts.” And once we/the individual has “melted,” why stay here? What besides inertia and fear compels us to this squalid, wrecked, polluted and corrupted corner of cosmic space-time? We can enter a “theatre” of all possibilities. Cross “tomorrow’s” bridge.

* * *

Do you like the reality you are watching now?

Consider the real world by the standards of the virtual universe. Exploring the virtual world of glowing green and red lines, the exterior cities of America and Japan, become redolent of the deliquescing cities of science fiction. Los Angeles, for example, is a game of SimCity™ played by a maniac, a satirical dystopia too weird to be anything but real. In this respect the interior dimensions of the virtual world can be regarded as constant, reflections of one another. Los Angeles conveys the idea of a (real) contemporary city which is a maze of social and architectural vectors, the consequences of a process of fragmentation.

In this context, the city has become a “pre-historic” concept to the modern virtual world inhabitant: pre-historic in the sense that real cities date from a time before virtuality, and as such are little more than the inspiration for further examples of gothic ruins—the cyber clichés of a post-apocalyptic society or the desolate rural settlement where occult forces have transformed the stock characters of 70s Americana into a cast of living dead.

The essence of the cyber-world is never to simulate real life, but to offer a gift of the possible. In virtuality we are citizens of an invisible city where there is no danger, only challenge.

The idea of virtual reality has an air of magic; this seductive medium of illusionary three-dimensional space seems the stuff of Disneyland and science-fiction films. Why is replicating the three-dimensional world so fascinating? Over the ages cultures have sought strategies to record the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional plane. For example, the Egyptians flattened and overlapped forms, and artists of the Italian Renaissance invented three-point perspective. This urge to reconcile the visual experience of our world with an image of it has continued into our technological age, from the development of photography to advanced virtual reality imaging. Positioned at a frontier, as photography was a century ago, soon virtual reality technology will be accessible to the fields of medicine, industrial design, architecture and beyond, and the potentials of this medium will offer new and visionary images of our world.

The “look” of virtual reality is bound to keep changing as the colonisation of computers and graphics continues to develop beyond current expectations. For most of the world “virtual reality” means the psychologically ultimate three-dimensional imaging medium of the future.

In exploring the potential models of spatialisation which new digital technologies make possible, it is necessary to stress that “space itself” is something not necessarily physical: rather it is a “field of play” for all information, only one of whose manifestations is the gravitational and electro-magnetic field of play we live in, and that we call the real world. Given the malleability of virtual space, and magnitude of the task facing cyberspace architects required to design electronic edifices and data cartographies for vast and rapidly expanding new needs, the spatial constructions in many contemporary virtual reality environments/games allow for almost unlimited sophistication.

The contemporary post-humanist environment, is an almost virtual world: it has no real texture, no age and no sense of decay. In this everlasting present, the sense of a place so real it is unreal is overpowering.

* * *

A “place” is somewhere that is symbolically marked, defined by limits or borders, constituted in relation to others (both within and without) and recognised through memory and tradition (whether actual or ideologically created). “Place” is thus distinct from “space” which is its abstraction: spatialisation involves the bracketing out of so-called “secondary qualities” and symbolic-traditional residues in order to derive location from co-ordinates and a grid. Atopia as “non-place” is not the same as a utopian pure space (or literally “non-space/place”) even if it follows from it.

If the condition for the disclosure of pure space is the infinite horizon or horizon of the infinite, the horizon of atopia is not infinite but “indefinite.” Whereas the infinite necessarily implies a “telos,” a progression, even if asymptotic, towards that which recedes, the indefinite combines movement with inertia, and a reduction of identity and difference to the same. Atopia is distinct from the infinity of pure space in that it is spatially located: as with “place,” one can enter and leave it. Therefore it is not simply the negation of place, but a particular type of “positive” place with its own characteristics and temporality, and associated experiences. We are in an atopic non-place as we sit in our cars, listening to music, driving along the motorway; we are in a non-place when at a shopping-mall; we are in a non-place when we sit in the lobby of a corporate building, waiting. In each case, subjectivity does not disappear but it is constituted through our personal mode of address—a credit card number, a game score. Non-places involve the displacement and destruction of places, since they are, unlike the abstract “space,” enacted on the same physical level.

Virtual worlds are non-places. But the body can never be a non-body. This confrontation between non-places and real bodies is the crux of the problem of the virtual.

Jane: How do you fit all that shit in your head anyway? Must have been pretty good at memorizing huh?

Johnny: Implant web wired, I had to dump a chunk of long term memory.

Jane: You had to dump a chunk of what?

Johnny: My childhood

Jane: Your childhood! Really? All of it? You can’t remember a thing?

Johnny: Maybe there are some residual traces. Every now and then there is something, but I can never hold on to it.

(Johnny Mnemonic 1995)

In Johnny Mnemonic (the film based on the story by William Gibson) Johnny is a mercenary, a man of little empathy and little time for others. He forsakes emotional engagements for secular remuneration. But he wasn’t always like this. His “job description” specified the removal of his long-term memories. Once his memories are restored, he is able to locate himself within a history and realises for the first time his own (in) humanity.

* * *

One’s own “sense of place” leads to another form of “Cartesian anxiety.” If only a personalized knowledge can be authentic, then a generalized urban historical knowledge becomes impossible. An experienced sense of place is blurred becoming utterly inaccessible, so too is the existential perspective of every living contemporary.

A memory is “literally” re-membered, as disparate fragments of data residing in various parts of the mind create replications not duplications of an original experience. This process is one of interpretation rather than reproduction, and as interpretation, it is a reformulation, a reconstructed version of an experience. As a result of this process, the perpetuation of memory owes more to the last recalled event than to an authentic defining moment. A memory is therefore an animate replication of a replication ad infinitum—we remember what we remembered of what we remembered, etc. A memory is therefore as different from and as similar to an initial moment as from other occasions of prompted recall. It is the product of continuous genesis, and therefore subject to the contingencies of a precarious ontology.

In Strange Days, to reproduce the playback of the Squid clips, Katheryn Bigelow uses a rigorous subjective camera and long sequence shots, without cuts. Events unfold in real time, in a single take, from a single point of view. The subjective camera does not only look at a scene, it moves actively through space. It stutters, it starts and stops, it pans and tilts, it lurches forward and back. It follows the rhythms of the body, that of the Squid filmer at the “real” time of taped experience, and that of the simulated perspective of a wearer during “playback.” Bigelow omits the reverse shots that usually anchor film narrative. Alternatively, the “Squid” sequences are intercut with reaction shorts of whoever plays them back. Usually, it’s Lenny. He sits with the mesh mechanism over his skull. His eyes are closed. His face strained with ecstasy or horror. His body shudders and mimes action in empty air. It’s an uncanny sight, the passion is real, but it has been divorced from any visible/external context.

The dynamic camera, maintained at a neo-zero distance from the action, produces a compelling effect of “subjective human vision.” This vision in Strange Days is shared by multiple viewers: the Squid wearer, the play-back-clip’s spectator, and the film’s spectator. The compendium effect is that the screen barrier between spectator and action, between fiction and reality disappears. The spectator is “there” in the film space.

In the opening sequence of the film the screen is black; a male voice asks: “You’re ready?” Then we are shown the detail of an eye. The eyelid blinks a couple of times before closing. “Yeah. Boot it,” a second male voice answers. After a burst of bright white static, we see the inside of a car, shown from the back seat in POV. We are visually and emotionally engaged with one of three apprehensive burglars, who are preparing to hit a Thai restaurant. We follow them inside; we swing “our” gun around threatening clients. “We” shout, run around nervously, and steal money. A police car cuts off the escape route. Scared and exhilarated, “we” follow one of the other thieves onto the roof of the building. There is another building ahead of “us,” the police now in pursuit. “We” jump, miss, fall-screaming, blackness. After a cut we are shown the main character Lenny Nero removing a play-back Squid machine from his head.

It was Lenny’s eye that we saw at the beginning of the sequence. We realise that the subjective images we have seen, as if they were our own perceptions, were inside Lenny’s visual mechanism. They were recorded perceptions, coming from the thief’s cerebral cortex. Thus they were a projection, a reproduction, a double, that had been replayed to Lenny as the perception of real events. A projection, not a visual hallucination, since Lenny was aware he was watching a clip, as the viewer knows that he/she is watching a film.

In effect those images were cinematic. The Squid reproduces, mirrors the functioning of the cinematic apparatus. Bigelow, in making an increasingly transparent cinema, creates the Squid as a sort of hybrid of perception—half brain, half machine—acting directly on the reception/comprehension of the brain. This is a cinema which reflects on itself, on the voyeuristic pleasure inherent to the spectators viewing activity, on the risks and fascinations of contemporary technological experimentation, and on the displacement of the subject.

In Paul Virilio’s theorizations, we have lost the old universe of ideologies, entering into a “new perspective” of “dromology.” An empire of “immediacy” speed and communication where the self mutates into a cyborg, half-flesh, half-metal, where existence is defined by rapid circulation through the technical capillaries of the mediascape and where culture is reduced to the “society of the spectacle.”4

What lies ahead is a disturbance in the perception of what reality is; it is a shock, a mental concussion. Experience entails a loss of orientation regarding alterity (the other)—a disturbance of the relationship with the other and with the World. It is apparent that this dislocation, this non-situation, will inaugurate a deep crisis which will affect the complexion of society.

In The Aesthetics of Disappearance Virilio suggests that the contemporary subject is prone to a mild form of epilepsy. This has interesting consequences in the realm of creative-imaging, since it has been observed that picnoleptic children faced with absences that they cannot explain and which they must account for, will begin to “recall” more than actually happened. They will insert additional details to cover gaps. This is a type of deterrence in narrative and experience. The best memory is one that interacts with experience at a median point, manufacturing additional experiences.5

Media, by altering the environment, evokes in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act—the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, people change.

Virillo’s speculations provide an insightful analysis of the complex discourse of contemporary technology. The “virtual body” does not exist except as an empty site for the convergence of a dynamic axis traced by three discourses: the digital coding of a technical culture which is programmed by computer-generated logic; the implosive logic of the image reservoir; and the imminent violence of the cyclotronic body-narrative continuity in the information society can only be assured by a violent speeding up of conscious perception.

Virilio approaches Nietzsche in understanding the dynamic language of the “will to will” as the architecture of the power field, across which subjectivity is expressed. In Speed and Politics Virilio states, “The related knowledge of knowing-power, or power knowledge, is eliminated to the benefit of moving power—in other words to study of tendencies and flows.” Virilio writes a purely “circulatory” theory of power—power as a terminator vector of violent speed.6

Virilio’s metaphysics parallel Nietzsche’s conclusions in The Will to Power, which emphasizes “suicidal nihilism.” “Suicidal nihilism” is the inevitable psychological “fall out” from the dynamic “spirit of willing” which, knowing that there is no substantive purpose to its willing, would “rather will nothingness than not will.”7

If, in effect, the relativity of the visible has become readily obvious, it is that the true obviousness of the implicit has already superseded that of the explicit. To no longer believe “one’s own eyes” has become fatal. The loss of perceptive faith prolongs/extends indefinitely, the loss of religious faith which began the Enlightenment. If “God is dead,” as Nietzsche says, it is that the omnipotence of the “gaze” is extinct forever. The absolute gaze of the Divine/Creator and the relative gaze of the human/observer, both led into the fall, definitive blindness.

* * *

Virilio’s thought fundamentally comes to represent a practical manifestation of Nietzsche’s grim diagnosis of the approaching storm of technological nihilism. The spirit of sacrificial violence which pervades Nietzsche’s thought is animated in all its dread in Virilio’s discussion of the spirit of “endocolonization” the war spirit, that is, which finally liberated of any political or religious limit, colonizes time (a nowhere space), the city (a nowhere place), history itself (a nowhere genealogy) and colonel bodies (as empty “boarded vehicles”).

Virilio’s texts operate as “war machines,” violent speedways which deconstruct everything in their path, from subjectivity (“polar inertia”) to flesh (“bodies without wills”). Dromology is a double sign of presenting and absence, which is the epochal consciousness of the contemporary condition.

What is to be feared, what has a more calamitous effect than any other calamity, is that man should inspire not profound fear but profound nausea; also not great fear but great pity. Suppose these two were on day to unite, they would inevitably beget one of the uncanniest monsters the ‘last will’ of man, his will to nothingness. Nihilism.8

Nietzsche’s correlation of nausea and pity—“to will to nothingness”—occurs in the complexion of Virilio’s “dromocratic subject.” In this site, the body is evacuated, transfigured as a blank “metabolic vehicle,” a speedway absorbing all of the iridescent signs of the mediascape, trapped in a closed horizon which moves according to technological, not biological time. Virilio exemplifies the interpolation of the flesh by speed—the interiorization of the “will to nothingness” as the dynamic nexus of dromology. A new type of body has subsequently emerged, “the presence in the world of bodies without wills.” The metabolic body is invaded by all the strategies—neon minds/electric egos/data skins—of the grand circuitry of a society constructed upon the sleek of surface and network feeding into continuous regenerating simulacra.

* * *

The “televisual experience” is our new exterior brain. Galaxies of dreams and information—people become more comfortable with televisual reality than with daily life. A new reality approaches, a new synthetic materiality giving people infinite access to infinite alternative realities through data streams of light. These realities will program, shape and broadcast information, fragmenting terminally the fabric of reality. Reality will be a multiple series of channels, option switches feeding the mind.

The accessibility of reality through representation is qualified by a subject’s suspension of disbelief. Belief in the authority of representation can be inconsistent with knowledge based on the subject’s direct experience of the world. What overrides this understanding are emotional responses to representations. Essentially this illusion is analogous to a dream state, a wish fulfillment where rather than images being assumed to be transparent conveyors of being, they are allowed to become conditioned by projective desires.

As animate consciousness, dreams are composed of images and thoughts that apparently exist in real time. They present mirrors of realities and experiences prescribed by individual subjects through the dynamic of desire. The thought patterns of dreams illuminate and re-structure a fabricated terrain of experience. As both permutations and a consequence of desire, dreams are meanings internally contextualized.

Today it is impossible to talk about the nature of perception, the analysis of objective reality without also talking about the development of virtual imagery and its influence on human behaviour.

This should be considered primarily in relation to the philosophical questions of the shattering of the viewpoint—the sharing of perception of the environment between the animate/living subject and the inanimate/object-seeing machine. Once the subject is definitively removed from the realm of direct/indirect observation of virtual images created by the machine for the machine, instrumental virtual images will be for us alien.

One of the fundamental aspects of the development of the new technologies of digital imagery and of virtual images offered by electron optics—the relative fusion/confusion of the factual and the virtual; the ascendancy of the reality effect over a reality principle.

The three tenses of action, past/present/future have been progressively replaced by two tenses “real time” and “delayed time,” the future having disappeared in computer programming and in the corruption of so-called “real-time,” which simultaneously contains both sections of the present and sections of the immediate future.

Dissimulating the future in the ultra-short time of on-line computer communication “intensive time” will replace “extensive time” in which the future was still laid out in periods of weeks/months/years.

With the fusion of the object and its equivalent image the confusion between presentation and televised representation, real-time deception will triumph over classic perception. Scrapping the absolute nature of traditional concepts of space and time is the scientific equivalent of the deception of regarding the reality of observed facts. In the face of the devaluation of territorial space, we embrace a distorted temporality where true/false are no longer relevant. The actual and the virtual have gradually taken their place.

If in pre-industrial eras the low speeds of various vehicles structured and geometrized the social landscape through infrastrucutural necessities, since the acquisition of high speeds, this structuring has evolved radically. The essential is no longer visible, except at times; the means of communication and the vehicle – projectile coalescence concentrate what is essential to the new “social” space. Since energy’s area has become the locus of power, it is here, and not there that the critical is from now on played out. The energy crisis develops in crisis energy, which means the split between reality—the materialness of the human habit—and unreality—the immaterialness of a power that is founded only on the violence of energy and on the ever-expanding extension of its field.9

Time and space become a pure problematic—a progressive annihilation of the independence between time/space/subject.

It is hard to imagine a society that would deny the body just as we have progressively denied the soul. This however, is where we are headed.10

Today this question appears integrated within the advance of the new technologies of instantaneous interactivity. Now “closer” to others than our immediate material neighbours, we progressively detach ourselves from ourselves.

Now we approach the “automation of perception,” the innovation of artificial vision, delegating the analysis of objective reality to a machine, it is appropriate to talk of the nature of the virtual image. This involves the formation of an optical imagery with no apparent base no permanency beyond that of mental/instrumental visual memory. The development of visual culture has become innately connected to the advance of virtual imagery and its influence on human behaviour, and the “industrialization of vision” with the veritable market in synthetic perception and the ethical question this entails.


1. Virilio, Paul. The Overexposed City. Zone ½ (1986):14-39.

2. Baudrillard, Jean. Le System des objects. Paris: Denoel-Gonthier (1968).

3. Vaneigem, Raoul. The Revolution of Everyday Life. London: Left Bank Books/Rebel Press (1983).

4. Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black & Red (1977) .

5. Virilio, Paul. The Aesthetics of Disappearance. Semiotext(e) (1991).

6. Virilio, Paul. Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology. Autonomedia (1986) .

7. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. New York:Random House (1968) .

8. Ibid.

9. Virilio, Paul. The Art of the Motor. Minneapolis: Uni.Minnesota Press (1995).

10. Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine. bfi publishing (1994).



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Adrian Gargett has an M.A in Art and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Warwick University. He is presently engaged as a freelance writer contributing regularly to disinformation and and occasionally to academic journals. Currently, he is preparing material for a book/publication on Virtual Reality, concentrating on its impact on contemporary perception(s).