[-empyre-] II

Diane Gromala gromala at sfu.ca
Tue Oct 9 13:59:55 EST 2012

Jon and Ana,

history relish
Thanks so much for reminding everyone of how different the rhetoric was
back in the day, esp. re: notions of the "virtual." It's an important historical
reference, especially because so much of what was written before the year 2000
seems to have been forgotten, as others on this list have noted.

For me, the term is an important aspect of any form of representation. 
Textual forms, I'd argue, precipitate what some may term a virtual experience -- 
different from other forms in important ways, to be sure.
I'm wondering why it is that text isn't often referenced in this regard;
MOOs and MUDs were important virtual environments back in the day,
and while singular genius authors may be dead, there is no evidence 
(tho many fears) that text is going anywhere. (Am still waiting for the
paperless office, individual jet-packs -- and the regulations  of space that 
would have to attend that innovation.)

background in brief
In the 1980s, I worked at Apple and in the early 1990s, was part of
the Banff Centre's Art and Virtual Environments  residency.
For me, VR seemed to be simply an extension of HyperCard, in a broad sense.
Brenda & Marcos were also at Banff, and Sandy, Kate Hayles, etc.
participated in the Symposia that followed.

I'm glad to find that pain is the subject of this and last week's discussion,
since I've been exploring immersive VR and pain since 1989 --
it's great to find that such wide-ranging colleagues share the interest in pain.

Dancing with the Virtual Dervish, Virtual Bodies was the piece Yacov and I created
at Banff, and exhibited until 2003. The virtual environment was derived from 
MRI studies of my body (required by insurance companies as a quixotic quest
to "verify" my chronic pain -- silly, since pain itself lacks biomarkers),
texture-mapped with text that changed according to how immersants navigated.
The "body" then was a literal representation, but when immersants went "into"
smaller organs, they found themselves "flying" in apparently endless abstract forms.
It was possible for them to leave those spaces by locating the heartbeat
(spatialized sounds).

hallucinogens and . . .
What I found was that six degrees of freedom (DoF) (or feeling as tho one was flying) --
paired with a complete lack of rectilinear forms or anything like a terrain --
provoked an intensely odd sense of proprioception. The same kind of
proprioceptive sensation that I feel when I meditate for long periods of time,
something akin to certain forms of hallucinogens.
(In a modest sense, it was surprisingly like the kind of "consensual hallucination" that
Jaron Lanier promised, tho a seriously clunky instantiation.)

   Since that time, I've created interactive typography and interactive meatbooks
   (yep, books made of raw meat), suspending my VR work, which seems to
   have been abandoned and considered passé. 
In any case, when one of my former colleagues at UW's HITLab discovered that
VR was as effective as opioids for people who suffered 3rd degree burns,
I was compelled to return. (Videogames don't come close.)

Currently, I organized and direct a group of researchers that includes pain specialists
(physicians), neuroscientist, psychophysicist, psychologists, computer scientists,
sound designers, media artists and media studies scholars. Together, we are conducting
long-term health research (usually not considered art). At the same time, members
of this group also team up in various ways to theorize, create interactive art, do
enthnographies and so on. The reception has been lukewarm, except that in the past
2 to 3 years, pain has, in the words of others "become sexy." (?!)

I'm interested in what constitutes the virtual -- is the term useful? 
As my niece would say, "you can't pee in VR" -- that is, there are obvious limits, as there are with any media form.
On the other hand, it can elicit or provoke perceptually intense responses, some of which persist. 
So for VR, there are possibly unique affordances.
In my view, VR shares a few characteristics of pain -- certain aspects of each are not sharable
(for pain, see Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain.) 

Setting VR aside for a moment, many of those who have contributed last week described
what sound like moving experiences that transcend the silencing effects of pain,
in ways that appear to persist. Whatever the sharable phenomenon is, I wouldn't
term it "virtual." I'm wondering how others see this phenomenon?

(Note to Patrick L: I doubt that Massumi would sustain the mind/body split (tho who can?),
 and is explicit about that in his intro to Parables of the Virtual.
      At the (still virulent) risk of being accused an essentialist:
 an intriguing way to think about it is to look at pain research: 
 most scientific experts follow the so-called biopsychosocial approach -- 
 it's as close as one can get in the sciences without being a phenomenologist 
 of some post-Merleau Pontian flavor. Why? 
 Some reasons: their position follows clinical observation esp. re: chronic pain -- a systemic DISEASE, not symptom.
 Some reasons follow intriguing biological aspects, esp. where and how pain is thought to be processed. 
 Beyond the ways in which pain resists any separability of mind and body,
 in our currently brain-centrist time, it also resists any explanation that focuses on the brain.
 It would be difficult to dismiss the work of these experts as reductivist,
 even though they do seem to be forced to present it in that way.
 Of course, there have only been 4 major theories of how pain works since Aristotle, but that is for another time.)

Viscerally yours,
Prof. Diane Gromala, PhD
Canada Research Chair
Simon Fraser University
Vancouver Environs, Canada

skype: dr.gromala

On 2012-10-08, at 6:23 PM, Ana Valdés wrote:

> Jon, I did my share of writing at that time and my first book about
> the subject, Internet and Women, was published 1995. To write the book
> I travelled to Palo Alto and me Howard Rheingold, Brenda Laurel, Sandy
> Stone, Anne Balsamo (who was a guest at -empyre not so long time ago),
> Marcus Novak.
> The general concept was we were in a kind of paradigm shift, shifting
> from the real to the virtual, from the analog to the binary. We should
> be smarter if we connect some chip to our brain, to walk faster if we
> had a prothes of titan in our legs, we should hear or have our hearing
> improved if we had a chip implanted in our ear or in our eyes, to give
> us the sight of a cat.
> It reminded me of the sci-fi writer Cordwainer Smith, who was working
> at the CIA as well. He wrote about hybrids between men and animals,
> men with some genetical change or some gene borrowed from a cat, who
> did them have the abilities of the cat or the strenght of the elephant
> or the swiftness of a deer.
> Ana
> On Mon, Oct 8, 2012 at 11:07 PM, Jonathan Marshall
> <Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au> wrote:
>> II
>> I began living online with a thesis in mind, sometime in 1994. I had read much of what was then available as analysis. This is ‘ancient history’ and the amount of writing was small enough. But what was then available, struck me as fundamentally misguided. Firstly people tended to write about things which were not as if they were present day activities. They wrote about being online as if it was Gibson’s cyberspace with immersive reality, with translocation and working teledildonics amongst other things. They wrote about being online as if it were one domain, which conquered or transcended space, place, bodies and gender. They wrote about being online as if we were enmeshed in the wires or as if becoming cyborg was somehow radical or liberating. They said that nobody knew if you were a dog, and that free speech rained and fertilised everything, so we would have worldwide democracy and mutual understanding. They wrote that capitalism was now perfect, or that socialism was natural.  They wrote we were free of the chains of matter.  They claimed we would download our souls into the ether. They claimed that we lived in an electronic frontier. They claimed that we lived in an information or knowledge society, and that knowledge would arise by compounding our opinions and research, and that networks gave superior social morphologies. They claimed that people engaged in immaterial, or virtual, labour. We even had virtual classes. Knowledge workers were central.
>> The less triumphalist said that the internet would corrupt thought, would corrupt presence, would corrupt relationships, would alienate people from reality and responsibility, and was full of deceit. It was Heideggerianly inauthentic or fake; a forgetting of being.
>> In either case the virtual world was remote, ‘virtualised’, different and disembodied.
>> Sometimes it seems that such statements are still made today, and I wonder if we have gone beyond thinking the myths that we brought to online life, before we had even had any such life….
>> jon
>> Some formal writings gathered at
>> http://uts.academia.edu/jonmarshall
>> UTS CRICOS Provider Code: 00099F
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