Cyberspace & Psyche
The Flesh Made Word
I am working on the essay while at the ATP Conf. Version 0.07
The topic, Cyberspace and Psyche is close to me because I feel close to the psyche in cyberspace. I am a psychotherapist in Christchurch NZ and have a background in psychodrama. I started in the online world with my BBS in 1992. It was called Psybernet, which is now the name of my website where you can learn more about me and Psybernet. One focus of my endeavours with Psybernet is to explore the psyche in cyberspace . The means of this exploration has been through email discussion groups such as Psyber-L a group I host which has been active for many years.
The Internet is a window to our collective soul or psyche. The Net ignites an eruption from the depths of our collective unconscious. All the claims for the Internet have not over-hyped it, the opposite is true, no one metaphor alone gives us adequate words for something so encompassing.
The overall tenet in this paper it is that there is an evolutionary step occurring with the advent of the Net. Teilhard de Chardin spoke of such evolutions in Phenomenon of Man. The following quote is online:"No one can deny that a network (a world network) of economic and psychic affiliations is being woven at ever increasing speed which envelops and constantly penetrates more deeply within each of us. With every day that passes it becomes a little more impossible for us to act or think otherwise than collectively."- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)
(The Formation of the Noosphere, 1947)
"As Karl Marx turned the world of philosophy upside down by revealing the foundations in society for every human theory, Teilhard tried to accomplish the even more difficult task of turning theology downside up. He tried to demonstrate that the material world, the world of rocks and trees, stars and planets, plants and animals, rather than being the neutral subject of scientific investigation, was in fact the soil from which would spring a new vision of the holy. The very subject matter of pure science was nothing less than a mirror in which one could see reflected the face of God."
Charles P. Henderson
At the core of this document are probes into the psyche and cyberspace -- psyberspace if you like, each revealing something of its depth. The transformations in psyche revealed in these probes, taken together, suggest our psyche, is making a qualitative leap, which will transform us and all the social institutions which attend to psyche.
Throughout you will find the use the words soul, psyche and the collective unconscious,they give a sense of the underlying mystery of life, and at the same time of our deep knowing. The words come from the many traditions including the depth psychology of Jung and Freud and they are hyperlinked wherever possible to texts from those traditions.
In the words of McLuhan the internet is a cool medium. A medium is cool if the participant has to work at it. The graphics on the Net, unlike movies, are interactive. Much of the Net is text which itself is cool, and as it is manipulated electronically it is even cooler. Everything we see on the Net invites us to act, to participate and to be involved to be immersed. The participation of our imagination is called for. Once the imagination is there psyche is there.
Psyche requires a medium for it to be visible to others, a novel, a painting, a psychodrama stage or the psychotherapeutic hour. The psyche needs the litmus paper of a medium to be visible. The Net is such a medium. It is a medium of media. Our emails and websites are both canvasses on which we paint and mirrors of psyche. As we tune in with webcams, pictures and sound we mediate more of our being. It is in the process of mediation that imagination calls forth the psyche. It is possible to take this to a philosophical extreme, and thing of ordinary life, our material world and carbon based bodies as mediating something beyond the atoms. Who knows, but for now I am thinking of that as the un-mediated face-to-face world.
The digitalisation of text, sounds, and images in itself is simply a development in storing, sending, editing, presenting, searching and linking the text, sounds and images. These things were mediated long before the Net, we used our imagination in those media long before the net. Psyche has been close to visual art, writing and music since their birth. While the speed of transmission and accessibility and many other aspects have increased it is the sum total of all the changes that have made one crucial change. The developments of the Net mean that we now inhabit the realm which in earlier times we could only access. It is not just the technology, the experience of going places involves imagination.
The simple Internet mailing list, for example, is, at one level just that, a list of names. The experience of being on a list easily becomes being in a list, belonging to a group. Where does this group meet? In cyberspace. We live in the medium.
Cyberspace has transformed the word. Text having become digital is liberated from lead, paper and ink. The letter has returned as email. No matter how hot the graphics get, text will remain. We already see people in a video conference saying "send me an email!". Synchronous encounters, face to face or via video will need to resort to asynchronous textual modes for specific needs, sometimes intimacy needs. Writing activates the imagination, the psyche, the soul. Words like the eyes, are windows into the soul. Text is a channel for intimacy because it is linked to the collective unconscious.
The love letter, and the poem, are earlier testaments to this idea. When we are in emotional pain -- writing is a way to cathart, to heal, because we link to our depths via the words. Writing to others can connect us at this depth.
Words, display epistemological roots, like advertisements for archetypes of the unconscious. The written word, when we have time to focus on it, is so bold we shy from its impact. The :-) smiley in email, supposedly to make up for the lack of facial expression -- is there to dilute the power of words. We feel exposed when we read what we have written so we add the smiley, a digital fig leaf. Words, add a level of abstraction to the things they describe. It takes imagination to write them and to read them.
The word is a symbol, which encapsulates meaning. Mediated sound and images have a similar aspect, the selection arrangement and presentation are loaded with meaning.
Autonomy of Cyberspace
The virtual is not, as it may seem, at the mercy of our will. In this respect it is unlike the media we create to manifest it. Cyberspace like psyche has autonomy and objectivity, a life of her own! We can watch, study, be moved, sometimes have an influence, but the exploration is akin to getting to know someone, to discovering a new world. This attitude toward psyche is characteristic of Carl Jung, and it is fitting to apply it to the psyche in the online realm.
As a psychotherapist I carry the attitude with me from psychotherapy into cyberspace. My work is to listen to people as they speak of their lives. I watch dramas unfold. The medium of these dramas is a series of psychotherapeutic hours, for a fee, in a room. Part of the medium is my active listening and their speaking. The dramas are of a virtual nature. They hover in our imagination. There is a shared experience, because we constantly align perceptions, and because these dramas are not only personal. For example a child in the dramas is a child and immediate assumptions apply, as childhood has universality. It is not as if we create the dramas, we allow them to become visible. Yet the dramas are influenced by the medium, they are seen in a particular way.
It is with this eye for such virtual drama that I come to cyberspace. To the psychotherapists eye, cyberspace mirrors back an eruption of the psyche we could not have imagined.
The wires, screens, software, fees for access, the relationships and politics of the internet form a medium that allow us to shed a light on an imaginal realm that is at once related to the medium, and distinct from it. Distinct because the experience of communication occurs in a realm quite unlike the physical gadgetry. The medium allows us to see a space, and to make our place in it. And just as with spaces in the non virtual world we can't make those places just as we would like. There are virtual reality constraints; time is one, the contours of cyberspace created by passwords and money is another. There is also the ebbs and flows of life, sometimes flooding our mailboxes and other times offering a void, when what we want is not there.
The medium structures time for us. The flow of time is like no other, not like a movie, constrained by the linearity of a flow of 2 hours. Not like a conversation, requiring face to face immediate response. In email lists there is a sense of what is current and what is stale, one can catch or miss the right moment or Kairos as it is usefully known in Greek, to distinguish it from linear time, chronos. Yet old posts can be recalled and revived. This is just one example of how the canvas of cyberspace is nailed to the frame. Just as the dramas in psychotherapy are dependant on the structure (created by the initiative of the therapist) of the regular psychotherapeutic hour to give them their character so time plays a factor here in cyberspace.
Chat in real time, (live or over the phone or in IRC) restrains us by having to work at our mutual speed and by having to be awake (and even alive!) at the same time.
Silence a tool of the imagination. Words, written in silence, are a meditation.
When there is silence in response to what we write then we learn about our soul, creating ablackhole experience which mirrors our personalityWhat comes back to us when we write, or search on the net is out of our hands.
Psyche, Cyberspace and Money
Money has psychological impact. In psychotherapy the fee is a basic and elegant aspects of the psychotherapeutic relationship, it is part of the 'medium' of psychotherapy. It assures the attention in psychotherapy goes toward the client. The relationship is balanced in that both parties benefit, but the nature of the gain is utterly different. The personal psychological rewards for the therapist remain secondary. The fee is the first black hole in psychotherapy, the client and the therapist both projecting all sorts of values and motivations into its existence. It is the uneasy alliance in its origins with the medical profession, able to command payment for care, that made psychotherapy possible.
The boundaries drawn by fees around relationships is different in cyberspace. We have not come to terms with the political economy of cyberspace in any sphere, and not at all in how it might effect professional approaches to the psyche. The patient/doctor and client/therapist relationship may be forming in cyberspace, where it has structures that suit the medium, but we can be sure that the relationships online will be very different to the face-to-face matrix from which they have sprung.
Just as professional authorship and intellectual property are undergoing radical transformation so is the nature of the 'talking cure' in cyberspace. Not because it "lacks" the face to face experience or because there is no body language (a familiar but trite explanation.) I suspect that long term analysis for fees comparable to face to face will not happen in cyberspace, for same reason that air is free -- we are in a psychological medium. The virtuality of the medium takes us into the psyche directly. Doctors share the same space with patients and is difficult to know who is who.
Douglas Rushkoff made this point when he said, in a column in 1977 (quoted in an email I wrote, as the original link has died):
"The Internet itself is a form of social and psychological therapy. Unless you live in the Antarctic, to seek professional counseling online is both avoidant and redundant."It may be that this is only true while we create true online psychotherapy, one that does not imitate the face to face.
I am sure more has been written in the last few months on the Internet than possibly all the writing in the past, ever! (reference?) making this a rich imaginal soup -- mirroring the world.
How does this textual digital replica relate to the world? It is the world transformed via words. It is not the world, it is the world mediated by writing. The medium . . . any medium . . . mediates between us and the world. Does it reflect accurately? It is more that it transforms the world.
I call it a soul mirror for several reasons; because of writing...
It adds our perception our projection and the imaginal power of words and images. When we look at the world throughout the Internet we see it through a mythical projection that gives us a soul image.
What we see in see is not something that is there . For example this text, if you are reading it on the net, may not be in the green Arial with the purple background that I am writing it in. It is filtered through your doors of perception.
That minor example is replicated in kind in major ways. For example reading an email conversation or list, for one person might involve messages scattered with significant pauses over three months. Someone else reads them in one night every month, they perceive a different flow.
It has the same paradoxical quality of a real mirror. We see what we want to see. Like Snow Whites step mother we come to the mirror with a wish. (Dinner with Persephone - Patricia Storage.)
Intimacy of Digital Text
We are very close in cyberspace.
I can see inside your mind when you are in solitude. You can click and respond to these words right now. We have equality as author and reader.
When we meet face to face I can't see your email! I can't see its SHAPE. When we meet face to face I can't entertain your words for hours and compact my solitude into a small capsule, just for you. When we meet face-to-face, I can't click on your URL, I can't delete nine tenths of what you say and quote the line I want to respond to, I can't save your words on my disk, I can't cut and paste and search for more meaning in your words on the web.
Speed of light delivery combined with luxury of languishing over a letter. The dimension of asynchronicity in cyberspace, creates new opportunities for intimacy.
There is an over rated idea that because there is no body language in cyberspace that there is a lesser quality in the relationships. To quote the Ethics Committee of the APA :
"On the other hand, Internet is a methodology without nonverbal cues, and appears to be a more limited medium for the delivery of therapy services than telephone or tele-conferencing."But is it? Cyberspace adds dimensions of intimacy, intense virtual eye contact, even as it removes non-verbal cues.
An email is not a letter. A letter is not instantly available once it is sent and the flow of a letter exchange has the tendency to reduce words to information, rather than a means of relating. We can't have a discussion by letter, we correspond. We have email discussions. The flow of email discussion is created by the participants. The flow adds meaning, in the way body language adds meaning in face to face contact. We notice the silence in email lists
Options of who we relate to are instantly and constantly available. Email is social. Sociometric.
Where are we heading?
With digitally enlivened text, in silence, in our own time and rhythm, we have the resources for a qualitative leap in communication. Just how this impacts the soul, the hidden flows of life is not all that clear, but I am sure we are doing that already. Would we go this far? In a post in Netfuture (link gone) Scott Lopatin takes this idea further: The migration to a higher self has started. Typing directly from the brain filters out all the faketalk, the meaningless flirts, the hopeless intimidation, the overconfident stud. Everyone is taken for what the mind puts into words, not for how the physical world has treated us. "It is hard for me to interact in person nowadays. I feel more confident in virtual space. I like my virtual self more, I can't help it," a veteran online chatter replies.
Belonging in Cyberspace
Belonging in Cyberspace
There are no actual places, there is no actual space. Space and place are metaphors, the predominant metaphor we use to conceptualise what is happening here. Jaron Lanier coining the term virtual reality did a good job, he has his own specific sense of what it is, but it is narrow in my opinion.
The term is useful in a much broader sense, it applies to the desktop on our screens, they are virtual desks, with virtual folders and files. With the web we navigate to sites, join groups, read pages, virtual all. Metaphorical navigation, but we do something it might be a metaphorical moving around but we really do do it! A reality of metaphor.
There are contours in cyberspace. When we belong to a societies, go to its conferences and subscribe to its newsletter and journal, we have a sense of belonging.
There are no nations in cyberspace. It may be that we are in a world of metaphor, products of our imagination, but that does not mean any dream we weave will fit the web. It would seem that there are worlds, malls, sites and homes galore none really define where we belong.
It would seem that many place wants you, "Make this your home".
Where do you belong? In cyberspace that is like asking who you are. Just as in the material world
Qualitative leap not just more
The impact of audio and video and miniaturisation ... it has impacted during the time I have been writing this essay. Satellite view of the world
we see copies not the real thing
anonymity multiplicity gender Sherry Turkel The displacement of the real
virtualisation of the real
Typing becomes talking under certain conditions. Psychological conditions. We type an essay even if we do it online. We talk in some emails even when we do it offline. The experience is the determining factor, yet we can't will ourselves to have an experience, it comes with the entry into the space.