Final Amputation:
Pathogenic Ontology in Cyberspace

Presented at the Third International Conference on Cyberspace
University of Texas, May 1993

Mark D. Pesce

Prologue to the 1994 Edition in
SPEED: A Journal of Technology and Politics

Twelve months have passed since "Pathogenic Ontology", and the ideas contained within it, concretized on the page. It seemed more of an introduction than an overview, a statement of direction rather than a survey. Despite all the talk of the "infobahn" and a universe of "channels" serving up pay-per-view, cyberspace, as the realm of visualized, virtualized communication, is no nearer. Somehow, like AI, cyberspace has managed to show incredible promise without delivering anything substantial, apart from a few experiments which highlight both the promise and stagnation of its current state.

Most significantly, this work has added a new plateau to the discussion of cyberspace, that of vivogenics. This neologism, born from a need to define an opposite to pathology (which is not "normal", except in the most strict clinical usage), has come to encompass an approach, an assemblage, which frames cyberspace in terms of mythological content and communicative bilaterality. In this work I argue that these elements are fundamental to the design of cyberspace, whether consciously intended or subconsciously realized; that the creation of a world necessarily implies the creation of a world-view.

Immediately following the Third International Conference on Cyberspace, where this work was first presented, conference attendees Dr. Brenda Laurel (author of "Computers as Theatre", and an expert on the human/machine interface) and filmmaker Rachel Strickland, began the PLACEHOLDER project at the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada. Their goal, to create a sense of "place" within a synthetic world, encompassed many of the same design guidelines outlined in this work. Most importantly, they moved the mytho-content of the space into the foreground, and this formed the basis for self-representation and navigation. Furthermore, the mythological representation was consistent, and this meant that participants in PLACEHOLDER did not need to be "trained" to use the system. It was a well-executed example of what Dr. Laurel calls "No Fucking Interface!"

My own work has resumed its fundamentally technical course. Over the next year cyberspace, in the sense of a three-dimensional "consensual hallucination" envisioned by St. Gibson of the Matrix, will come to be realized, in part because of certain technical innovations to which I have been a party. Cyberspace will move into reality, and its fictive evocations will fade before its implementations. The experimental mytho-logic of highly connected spaces for communication will become the practical "laws" of the medium. If I could wish any response from the reader of this work, I would ask that it evoke a terrorizing fear; that our unprotected minds are soon to be laid open, to be pried apart in ways that would make William Randolph Hearst or Joseph Goebbels green with envy. A dedicated study of vivogenics is, in my assessment, the only thing which could afford us any protection at all.

I wish to draw the reader's attention to the one part of this work which I feel has been overlooked; the definition and exploration of the qualities of the "trans-space", a highly participatory, highly bilateral environment for communication. While it may be some time before the media permit a high-fidelity experience in the trans-space, it is now possible to create a low-fidelity experience which has all of the qualities of the space.

To this end, I have defined and am working toward the realization of the WORLDSONG project. WORLDSONG, in its organic form, is a group activity of "toning" (vocalization of continuous sounds) which corresponds to and follows the yogic defintion of the chakra centers. Individuals who participate in this experience report that they feel a certain sense of union or unity with the other participants in the WORLDSONG session. Using newly available cyberspace techniques, we will be moving WORLDSONG into an electronic context, where (its final demonstration), it will be possible to walk around a physical space, corresponding to a Dymaxion map of the Earth, and hear the sounds of participants, coming from all corners of the planet, localized to their specific presence in the map. It will be possible, in this sense, to hear the "song of the world", and furthermore, to participate, via cyberspace, in an experience of union with other humans.

Aptly fitting the requirements for vivology in cyberspace, I look forward to meeting you there.

Mark Pesce
April 1994

"Is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?"
"What's the difference?"

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash


The history of the human relation to technology is one of the gradual replacement of organic function with that of mechanical or electrical artifact. At the dawn of the Paleolithic era, Homo Faber, man the tool-maker, extended himself with various implements to augment strength (the ax), food-gathering (agriculture), or endurance (domestication of beasts of burden). In the eighteenth century, various advances to these extensions combined to produce mechanism; the cotton gin or the water-turbine driven mill. Each of these extensions has produced a consequent change in the range of human abilities, and therefore introduced a change in the content and structure of human culture. To state that these extensions by themselves produced these shifts in culture is to oversimplify; a complex relationship of feedback loops between humans, their artifacts, culture, and systems of communication together create these changes.

A century and a half ago man extended and superseded his organism through the use of the electric technology of the telegraph. In an instant the velocity of human communication and the ability to coordinate human activity reached its uppermost physical limit, the speed of light. This phenomenon has been described by Marshall McLuhan, in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, as an extension, or outering, of the human nervous system.

After three thousand years of explosion, by means 
of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western 
world is imploding.  During the mechanical ages we had 
extended our bodies in space.  Today, after more than a 
century of electric technology, we have extended our 
central nervous system itself in a global embrace, 
abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is 
concerned.  Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the 
extensions of man - the technological simulation of 
consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will 
be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of 
human society, much as we have already extended our 
senses and nerves by various media.  Whether the 
extension of consciousness, so long sought by advertisers 
for specific products, will be a "good thing" is a question 
that admits of wide solution.  There is little possibility of 
answering such questions about the extensions of man 
without considering all of them together.  Any extension, 
whether of skin, hand or foot, affects the whole psychic 
and social complex.[1]

The primary quality of any electric medium is its inherent electroplasticity, that is, its ability to construct a range of perceivable effects. The telegraph has a binary electroplasticity, dit and dah, whereas High-Definition Television has an exceptionally broad range of possible effects. As is natural in any technological evolution, electric media have tended toward a greater range of effects, or greater electroplasticity, through time.

Roughly a decade ago, major research began on media which are both highly electroplastic and designed to produce holosthesia. This word, coined by Martens[2] has its roots in the Greek holos (whole) and aisthesia (to feel or perceive), and describes any medium which produces the perception of an event through several (or all) sensory modalities in a self-consistent manner. Immersive technologies such as virtual reality fall into this class of electroplastic media. The fundamental intent of virtual reality is to produce in the observer the perception of an event as if it had occurred in the physical world. Holosthesia is the necessary component of such a form of synthetic perception. Cyberspace, at the union of the holosthetic technology of virtual reality and communications technology can create a shared holosthetic experience.[3] It is nowhere implied that this experience will be safe.

This is an important point, if only for the following reason; within twelve months, hundreds of thousands of children will be experimenting, on a daily basis, with a highly holosthetic medium. Experimenting is the operative word; within a few days more hours will be logged inside virtual environments by these children than has been amassed by the scientific community over a decade of research. Furthermore, as our tools and technology evolve beyond their current and primitive state, our ability to orchestrate holosthetic experience will be similarly extended, and this too raises questions: not of what is possible, but rather, what is safe. For this reason, this paper will directly address the issue of safety within holosthetic environments, particularly with respect to cyberspace.

Having participated in the design and implementation of one of these "Home VR" systems (Sega Virtua VR), the author has come to a realization which relates to all research work thus far performed in the field of holosthetic technology; while careful attention has been paid to the biological aspects of such systems, to prevent adverse physiological effects, very little research or design work has been conducted on the ontological or mythological content presented by these devices. Yet these aspects are fundamental to the devices themselves; the creation of a world necessarily implies the creation of a world-view. Geoffrey Hill, in Illuminating Shadows: The Mythic Power of Film discusses cinema, the most holosthetic of our current media, in the context of mythology.

The cinema has become to the modern world the 
collective cathedral of primitive participation mystique.  
It is the tribal dream house of modern 
civilization...Indeed, the cinema is the theater of life, the 
screen of human existence casting illuminating shadows 
onto the wall of tribal participation...If Marshall McLuhan 
is correct in arguing that each of our media is an 
extension of ourselves, and that the medium is the 
message, then his argument would support the contention 
that film is but an extension of our most inner and 
ancient consciousness...The dark cavern of the cinema is 
reminiscent of a ceremonial sweat lodge, an initiation pit, 
the dark night of the soul, the belly of the fish, the 
alechemical grave, or the wilderness of the night 
journey...It is the baptismal font where our skepticism is 
drowned in the motherly sea of awe and wonder.[4]

If these statements are true of cinema, how much more so for immersive technologies, which, beyond providing a space for the "suspension of disbelief", bind the participant to the mythology through interaction within the mythos? Cinema is the passive viewing of a mythology, cyberspace the active participation within a space that is essentially mythic. This phenomenon, although an everyday occurrence within aboriginal and "primitive" societies, is unprecedented in rational "Western" civilization. Thus far this technological development has been an unconscious enterprise, directed primarily toward entertainment, but always containing a mythic thread.

This paper, then, contains two threads, one scientific and one ontological or mythic. Like the works of William Irwin Thomson, the author will suggest the existence of a continuity between these aspects; each helps to create and sustain a particular configuration of the other.

The scientist tries to examine the "real" nature of 
the photograph; he tries to get away from psychological 
configuration, the meaning of image, to move down to 
some other, more basic level of patterns of alternating 
dots of light and dark, a world of elementary particles.  
And yet what does he find there but another mental 
configuration, another arrangement of psychological 
meaning?  If he persists in this direction long enough, the 
mythological dimensions of science will become apparent 
in his work, as they would if he had asked questions 
about the meaning of sunlight rather than questions 
about the behavior of photons.
        Science wrought to its uttermost becomes 
myth...But what is myth that it returns to mind even 
when we would most escape it?
        Forms of knowledge change as society changes.  
Sometimes these changes are small and incremental; at 
other times the changes are transformations of the 
structures of knowledge and not merely the contents...But 
this movement is not simply a linear and one-directional 
shift toward increasing rationalization and 
demystification; when the rational historian has come in 
to take away authority from the mystical and tribal bard, 
the artist has returned to create new forms of expression 
to resacralize, re-enchant, remythologize.[5]

The author will present a conceptual framework, known as perceptual cybernetics, for discussion of both the scientific and ontological issues raised by holosthetic media. It will be shown that holosthetic media have the ability to cause a change in the physical state of the user. Further, these states can be pathogenic, that is, they can produce conditions harmful to the organic being of the participant. It is the author's main thesis that these states of physical pathology have an analog in the psyche, that is to say, holosthetic media can create states of "pathogenic ontology". This pathogenesis has roots in both aspects. Further, holosthetic media can rapidly deliver an individual into a psychotic state.

If it is possible to create states of pathogenic ontology, is it possible to know in advance which configurations of holosthetic media give rise to such states? Using perceptual cybernetics as a model, an experiment is described which illustrates some of the potential dangers of high-fidelity holosthetic media; it represents one possible model for how this could be achieved. Conversely, it is equally possible that holosthetic media could produce a vivogenic ontology, one which strengthened the durability and responsiveness of the psyche, particularly with respect to interactions between participants. The model also yields some possible designs of such spaces as well.

Finally, what are the likely effects of long-term exposure to holosthesia? The author will comment on the phenomenon of "incorporated experience", that is, the construction of a world-view and experience base built upon elements from both the physical and synthetic worlds.

Narcissus as Psychosis: Amputation of the Organic Function of the Self

This paper seeks to present a unified model for describing the participants in and effects of the use of holosthetic media upon the individual. While a great deal of work has been done to forward the "engineered" aspects of such systems, little or no research has been done upon the effects of such use. This is quite understandable. McLuhan makes the point quite clear:

In the history of human culture there is no example 
of a conscious adjustment of the various factors of 
personal and social life to the new extensions except in 
the puny and peripheral efforts of artists.[6]

And sends a warning:

As long as we adopt the Narcissus attitude of 
regarding the extensions of our own bodies as really out 
there and really independent of us, we will meet all 
technological challenges with the same sort of banana-skin
pirouette and collapse.[7]

To continue research into the development of holosthetic media without any examination of the consequences of the unique qualities of holosthetic media, that it can generate "real" experience in a "virtual" world, would be a mistake of the highest order. Starting with two explanations of the effects of technologies upon their users, one developed by Marshall McLuhan, the other provided by perceptual cybernetics, it will be seen that holosthetic media have a qualitative aspect unknown in earlier technologies; they lead to a total replacement of an organic function of the self with an electronically mediated self-experience. The author's experience in the development of telepresence systems will be used to illustrate this point.

Technological Stress and Self-Amputation

In Understanding Media, McLuhan frames a basic model for the effects of technology upon its users. Those in the grip (or thrall) of a technology willingly undergo a painful psychological amputation.

Any invention or technology is an extension or self-
amputation of our physical bodies, and such extension 
also demands new ratios or new equilibriums among the 
other organs and extensions of the body... Physiologically, 
man in the normal use of his technology (or his variously 
extended body) is perpetually modified by it...[8]

An oft-given example is the automobile. The technology of the automobile was created to satisfy the demands of speed-up in transportation which followed the widespread adoption of the electric technologies of telegraph and telephone.[9] (This follows McLuhan's thesis that technologies are generally created as a response to the pressures created by a preceding technology.) The automobile greatly increases the speed of locomotion through the conscious self-amputation of the human organs of motion. The legs, which in their pure biological function carry human beings from one place to another, are self-amputated and replaced with a control interface (literally, a cybernetic interface). This amputation enables a greater speed of locomotion, which relieves the speed-up stress, but introduces new stresses of its own. The replacement of the biological or evolutionary function of organism by control or cybernetic function is the essential element in the human relationship to technology.

The stresses caused by recent technologies have been outlined by many authors, including Allucquere Rosanne Stone:

At the close of the twentieth century, I would argue 
that two of the problems are, first, as in Paul Virilio's 
analysis, speed, and second, tightly coupled to speed, 
what happens as human physical evolution falls further 
and further out of synchronization with human cultural 
evolution.  The product of this growing tension between 
nature and culture is stress...The development of 
cyberspace systems - which I will refer to as part of a 
new technics - may be one of a widely distributed 
constellation of responses to stress...Cyberspace can be 
viewed as a toolkit for reconfiguring consciousness in 
order to permit things to go on much in the same way.[10]

The challenge of humans in the late twentieth century's technological societies has been the development of a strategy for maintaining equilibrium (both physically and psychically) in an information-rich environment. The explosion in the accessibility, quality and quantity of information available to the individual is the hallmark of our cultural epoch, and from MTV to computer viruses, the human relationship to information is changing. Information has become our clothing, our food, our air, and free access to it is becoming perceived as a basic human right.[11] Yet, at the same time, humans can be overwhelmed by information, drowned in a sea of choices, confused by conflicting viewpoints and data, and find themselves unable to navigate or make decisions within the info- sphere.[12] This is a basic source of stress in our culture, for as this wave of information has burst upon us, it has become clear that, while for most of human history, only a few "decision makers" needed access to vast amounts of information, the very content of each of our lives is so dependent upon the flash-flood of data that each individual, in order to reach their potential within our civilization, also needs to have access to it and a degree of mastery of it.[13]

Holosthetic media are the natural reaction to this stress. Humans seek to overcome the stresses of the informational space by placing themselves wholly within it, immersing all sensory modalities. This gives humans the power to completely modulate the effects of the info-sphere, for information is used to provide a shield against information. However, holosthetic media necessarily imply a self-amputation of the highest order, that of all sensory modalities, and, as will be shown, of the sense of self. Any technological amputation always has a consequent effect in the structure of the self, as the reconfiguration of the senses produced by self- amputation introduces a new gestalt, or world view.

Total amputation within holosthetic media produces a complete reconfiguration of the human universe, but as all the senses are involved, these reconfigurations take place within the holosthetic space, further binding its participants to it. In a sudden cycle of positive feedback, people will find themselves unable to live without cyberspace almost as soon as they inhabit it. This quality has been identified by Stone:

...There is also a protean quality about cybernetic 
interaction, a sense of physical as well as conceptual 
mutability that is implied in the sense of exciting, 
dizzying physical movement within purely conceptual 
space.  I find that reality hackers experience a sense of 
longing for an embodied conceptual space like that which 
cyberspace suggests.  This sense, which seems to 
accompany the desire to cross the human/machine 
boundary, to penetrate and merge, which is part of the 
evocation of cyberspace, and which shares certain 
conceptual and affective characteristics with numerous 
fictional evocations of the inarticulate longing of the male 
for the female, I characterize as cyborg envy.[14]

The great rush to design holosthetic media has, as one of its primary undercurrents, this cyborg envy. A direct result of the stresses of the info-sphere, cyborg envy appears as a phantom pain, localized in no organ of perception yet created. It is the overloaded self crying out for final amputation within cyberspace.

Perceptual Cybernetics: A Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework to express, in terms of information theory, the relation and interaction between humans and their artifacts, or technologies, has been developed by Dr. David Warner, a Medical Neuroscientist at Loma Linda Medical Research Center.[15] This framework, known as Perceptual Cybernetics, describes a system of feedback loops and information interfaces which define the essentials of the relationship between a technology and its user(s). A simplified overview of this system, which will suffice for the purposes of this work, is shown pictorially in Figure 1. The major components of this system are described below.

PHI - The physical universe, the set of items outside of the self. In the example of the automobile given previously, PHI represents the machinery itself, and the interface it presents to the human. It can be more than just the control interface; an automobile indicates its performance by sound and feel, rather than by pure instrumentation. In more philosophical terms, PHI is the "other", the exterior, and can contain within itself the potential for independent action.

Fx ("Fecks") - The human biology, the raw organs of perception; the eyes, ears, nose, skin, and myriad other "senses" (sensors?) which provide humans the basic data by which they can create a view of the world. It is the affective interface as well, the means by which humans modify their world. In the sense that they eye watches road and traffic, the feet depress petals, and the hands steer the wheel, Fx is the interface between human beings and the other.

PSI - Psychology, the mental state, the human world view, or mind. In the framework of Cognitive Psychology, PSI contains "experience", and all perception is mediated by it. Our assessment of traffic, choice of routes taken, and concern about punctuality are events which occur within PSI.

Fx serves as the mediator between PHI and PSI. All human action expresses itself as PSI acting through Fx, and PHI expresses itself to human thought through Fx. Yet Fx can act of itself. Reflexes, such as the involuntary shutting of the eyes in response to a bright light, show that Fx, rather than just the slavish servant of PSI, has priorities of its own.

Each of these components presents an "interface" to its companion component. PHI and PSI both have interfaces to Fx, while Fx presents interfaces to PHI and PSI. In scientific terms, the PHI/Fx interface is studied in the discipline of neurophysiology, the Fx/PSI interface in Physiological Psychology, and PHI/PSI in psychophysics. These interfaces are the most interesting feature of this framework, with respect to holosthetic media. If, as Aldous Huxley, William James, and the cognitive psychologists have suggested, consciousness is largely a reducing function[16], an extraction from the universe of a restricted set of "events" which allow us to create a world view, a large part of this filtering occurs at these interfaces. The ear accommodates itself to a continuous sound. The eye adjusts to a constant pattern or movement.

Seen as a cybernetic model, each of these interfaces represents an information "barrier" between a component and its neighbor component. It is possible for PHI to present information filtered by Fx (infrared light, for example), and it is equally possible for information to traverse the PHI/Fx barrier only to be stopped at the Fx/PSI barrier (Hungarian speech when all I understand is Japanese). Devices such as the Nanomanipulator demonstrate how holosthetic media can be used to "bandwidth-shift" information contained in PHI so that in can be presented (mapped visibly and tactilely) to Fx, to produce an understanding in PSI.[17] Conversely, most of the human aesthetic experience is predicated upon the assumption that it is impossible to directly communicate a PSI state from one human to another, and therefore music, dance, the visual arts and other media are employed to express what remains inexpressible. In the well- designed user interface, PHI speaks to both Fx and PSI in clear, unambiguous messages.[18]

Telepresence as Electronically-Mediated Schizophrenia

In order to understand how this model works with respect to a holosthetic medium (in this case, telepresence), this work will now focus upon what we learned while building an inexpensive telepresence system. Our work was, from the point of view of technical feasibility, a very simple implementation of a well- understood technology[19], yet several of the phenomena we encountered have led us to believe that the potential of holosthetic technologies for eliciting pathogenic effects is greatly underestimated.

In the experiment, our goal was to construct a complete telepresence system for under a thousand dollars. With the exception of the video cameras, the total cost was under $250.00. The system consisted of a head-mounted display containing stereo headphones and two LCD color televisions mounted in a rigid framework located around a full-face motorcycle helmet. These televisions and headphones were wired to two video cameras mounted approximately 300 mm apart (lens center to lens center), again on a rigid frame. In the head-mount, two fixed lenses created a 40-degree binocular FOV for the user. (Interocular adjustments could not be made.) During the construction of the system, four phenomena in particular were observed which relate to the pathology of holosthetic media.

The first two of these phenomena caused motion sickness. In the first case, one of the experimenters (Donahue) spent several hours adjusting the lens system and tuning the interocular gap. After enduring hours of a poorly focused environment, the experiment had to be halted temporarily due to nausea and a headache. In the second case, the right and left video channels were reversed with respect to the displays in the head-mount. Although little disorientation was noticed immediately, as soon as the cameras were moved, the experimenter became suddenly and violently ill. The phenomenon of motion sickness in holosthetic environments is at least partially understood[20], and is known to occur when too great a disagreement exists between sensory modalities. It is known that "lag times" of greater than 100 ms in virtual reality systems place the user well within the "barfogenic zone", and for many people the threshold is much lower.

The third phenomenon arose from the mountings of the cameras. Because of the size of the video cameras, it was not possible to mount the lenses any closer together than 300 mm. The human interocular gap averages 65 mm, and our perception of binocular parallax, one of the six determinants of depth perception, is based upon the constancy of that gap. The experimenters and their test subjects noted, when inside the system, that their sense of depth and focal plane were markedly different from that which they normally experienced. Objects 5 m away were perceived as though they were less than 2 m distant. Objects closer than 1 m could not be fused binocularly.[21] The experimenters christened this phenomena the "hippopotamus-eyes' view" (hyperstereo), and, while confusing, caused no pathological state to arise in any of the test subjects.

In perceptual cybernetics, these first three phenomena involve the interface between PHI and Fx. They arise directly from biology. It is possible, even easy, to pass information across the interface that is pathogenic to one of the components of the interface. The information barriers that exist between the different components will not automatically reject any pathological information. In fact, motion sickness induced nausea is believed to be a response to the pathological effects of neurotoxic poisons, which can have similar disassociative effects upon the senses. From an evolutionary perspective, rejecting information within Fx, just because it is pathogenic, would tend against longevity, natural selection, and would countervail the building of the human experience base which is key to the evolutionary success of Homo Sapiens. Humans have evolved to collect experiences, and use these experiences as a basis for a survival strategy for themselves and consequently the whole species. Lacking the specialization of particular sensory modalities, such as the dolphin's ear or dog's nose, humans must involve the entire sensorium in the selection of survival strategies.[22]

The fourth phenomenon was purely psychological, and unlike the previously discussed phenomena, could not be predicted from a physiological model. The experimenters guided a series of test subjects through the system. This included instruction on how to wear the head-mounted display, and how to fuse the image (in the absence of an interocular adjustment). Once the subject was comfortable, a telepresent tour of the lab began. The subjects were ask to identify objects in the lab and state how far away they perceived them to be. At the end of the experiment, the cameras were turned upon the subject. Without exception, the test subjects failed to identify themselves immediately, and most then passed through a shock of recognition as they realized that "they" were "out there." This phenomenon has been observed by others, including Rheingold:

I began to accept the odd sensation that accompanied 
the act of transporting my point of view to that of 
a machine - until I swiveled my head and looked 
at myself and realized how odd it seems to be in two 
places at the same time.  Using your eyes and ears and 
hands to control a robot equipped with cameras, 
microphones, and mechanical manipulators sounds like a 
bit of fun, but I never thought of it as a thrill.  What you 
don't realize until you do it is that telepresence is a form 
of out-of-body experience.  It tasted to me like a little 
advance sample of the way it feels to be part of a silicon 

In its purest sense, telepresence, one of the simplest and most direct of all holosthetic technologies, creates a profound sense of disembodiment, one that in almost any other state of being would be called pathogenic. It is a form of electronically-mediated schizophrenia, where the self, through its various holosthetic extensions, removes itself from itself.

The event occurs entirely within PSI. The system itself was well tuned, and gave no cause for physical discomfort in any of its users. Yet the image itself was disturbing. That is directly due to the fact that no image of the self exists within the self. The self is never seen, as it forms the background of perception. With telepresence, the background and foreground can be reversed. If PSI is considered as a set of information from which an image or thought can be developed, the following can be stated: PHI delivered, and Fx presented, through its interface to PSI, data which contradicted an understanding(s) or relationship(s) internal to PSI. The set of experiences of the self do not include the direct experience of the self; the set PSI attempted to contain its contradiction, anti-PSI.

The impossibility of the situation presented in this phenomenon, as a psychological event, its imminent self- contradiction, forces the discussion into terms which are essentially mystical, or ontological. At the same time, it is a profoundly pathological state, an electronic disembodiment, and can only occur when an amputation of the self qua the self has occurred. A sense of disembodiment from the self is not uncommon among schizophrenics or those in psychosis, but it is also a sought-after state of grace among mystics. Holosthetic media, in their capacity to create responses within PSI, will be able to express both of these ontologies.

The Languages of Holosthesia

As can be seen through the development of the previous example, two parallel languages are required to describe the effects of holosthetic media. The first is the rigorous language of science, of a blue light flashed at 3 Hz into the right eye while a 1500 Hz tone at 80 dB assaults the left ear. It is the language of systematic methodologies and perceptual cybernetics. While this language describes the actualities of perception, it fails completely when talking about events within or states of PSI. The interface between Fx and PSI is the territory of semiotics; the human process of mapping event into symbol and symbol into understanding and understanding into world view. Cognitive psychologists are at the beginning of understanding the ties that bind subject to referent, of proximal events to distal perception.

The second language speaks directly to being, and speaks to those parts of humans which can accept breaches in rationality and causality, which sustain a world view through faith in unseen events. A large part of perception, even in the most "rational" human beings, is based upon a set of unconscious assumptions which provide the framework for a world view. When these assumptions are brought into the foreground, they take the form of mythology or magic. As David Tomas says:

This mytho-logic suggests that one of cyberspace's 
more fundamental social functions is to serve as a 
medium to communicate a form of "gnosis, mystical 
knowledge about the nature of things and how they came 
to be what they are".  In cyberspace, the classical 
hardware interfaced cyborg and the postclassical data-
based cyborg or personality construct meet with new 
posthuman intelligences that engage in revelatory and 
pedagogic activities reminiscent of the activities of 
shamanistic figures who mediate between traditional 
sacred and profane worlds.  Such mediations between 
human and post-human, analogue and digital spaces, 
suggest that cyberspace must be understood not only in 
narrowly socioeconomic terms, or in terms of a 
conventional parallel culture, but also and more 
importantly as an inherently original and inventive 
metasocial operator and potential creative cybernetic 

Given McLuhan's assertion that the form of the medium determines the message delivered by the medium, it seems clear that holosthetic media, and cyberspace specifically, have a form that must be expressed in mythological terms. It is the only language which can frame the effects (in PSI) of holosthetic media. The language of PSI in relation to PSI, and the relationship between contradictory states of PSI (which exist in all humans) is the language of mythology and ontology. Because holosthetic media talk to PSI in the language of worlds, which is the internal language of PSI, it is necessary to create a language of myth, find expression for ontos, in order to fully understand the effect of holosthetic media upon PSI.

From the Sumerians to Joseph Campbell, numerous systems have been developed to discuss mythology. The media which mostly closely resemble the myth- or world-creation skills needed to design holosthetic media are writing and the dramatic arts, which can, for limited periods, "suspend disbelief", and speak directly to PSI in its internal language.

Pathology then, has two languages of description with respect to holosthetic media. The pathology of sensory tricks and confusion can be described, for the most part, in the scientific language. The pathology of world-views requires a frank and open usage of such value-laden words as evil, as the expression of pathology in mythical space.[25]

Holosthetic Psychosis

The thesis advanced in the previous discussion, that holosthetic media can express pathogenic states, relates directly to the form of holosthetic media. The entire process of holosthetic media, seen from perceptual cybernetics, is that of a tuning, an adjustment of the interfaces between PHI and Fx, and Fx and PSI, to produce the widest possible range of holosthetic responses. Holosthesia is a form of interaction highly tuned to the particularities of the interfaces presented by each of the components of the model. A head-mounted display, for example, provides a high-bandwidth, self-consistent interface to the visual sense, so much so that it creates the perception of "space" within the mind of the participant. The improvement in the quality of the holosthetic relationship between PHI and Fx can therefore produce a qualitative change in PSI as well.

Although current holosthetic technology is, at best, a crude attempt to optimize information transfer across these interfaces, an enormous amount of work is being done to improve these technologies. Most of this work, at the present, is being directed at the PHI/Fx interface, with technologies such as high-resolution head- mounted displays, spatial localization of sound, and tactile feedback. Cyberspace researchers are engaged in learning about, and optimizing, the PHI/Fx interface. This process contains within in it an element of cyborg envy.

During the exploration of the PHI/Fx interface, researchers also carry on an exploration of the Fx/PSI interface. The greater the "fidelity" which can be achieved through the holosthetic optimization of the PHI/Fx interface, the more plastic PSI becomes vis-‡-vis PHI. The eventuality of this process is that PHI will be able to completely (or almost completely) determine PSI. This is the true man/machine symbiosis, the end result a true cyborg, human united to machine. This process has its reverse component; work continues toward the expression of mind, or PSI, within the machine. Speech recognition, with its unfathomable ambiguities, outlines the difficulties inherent in such a task, but, as a more complete picture of Fx is created, the process will accelerate, and may, at some future point, succeed. This would represent a fully bilateral symbiosis, where machine steers mind as mind steers machine. A dance.

These speculations, even in a dim outline, trace out the most important details in the newly developing relationship between humans and their technologies. Perhaps the most relevant detail to this analysis is the component of speed. The electric age gave instantaneous speed to the entire spectrum of human interaction; now it moves forward into the entire spectrum of human relation to the machine.

Much has been said on the potentials of holosthetic media in education. It is widely believed that virtual reality represents an incredible tool for investigation and study, for learning and experimentation. If that is so, it is primarily due to the fact that information presented will be "tuned", presented in a holosthetic form (via PHI/Fx/PSI) which is uniquely well suited for human absorption. Holosthetic media hold out the possibility for greatly accelerated learning, almost, as described by Rheingold, "mind amplifiers". This potential for speed-up represents one aspect of such an amplifier.[26]

Like every technology, this speed-up will have to pair with a self-amputation. However, rather than a "sensory" amputation, this holosthetic effect will lead to an amputation within the organic function of the "self". Integral to the human process of consciousness is the "reducing function", which operates at both the purely organic level and at the level of mind. For example, certain individuals suffering from forms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders have "racing thoughts", that is, an organic condition which results in the inability to effectively discriminate between and retain trains of thought. In this case the organic reducing function is impaired. In order to speed information transfer from machine to mind, from PHI to PSI, this reducing function will need to be eliminated or circumvented. This, however, can only be done at great peril to our own sanity.

A thought experiment illustrates this point. Suppose the existence of a high-fidelity holosthetic device, capable of creating and maintaining a world self-consistent in both biological and mythical or ontological aspects. This device has been designed to uniquely match the capabilities of a test subject who is placed into the device, or rather, immersed within the holosthesia generated by it. At the beginning of the experiment, the test subject has a known PSI, or mental state. The experiment begins with a full-fledged assault upon the test subject's senses, using every trick of holosthesia to express PHI, with the highest possible fidelity, and the greatest speed, through Fx, to PSI. The machinery creates a world, a world which the test subject inhabits. Furthermore, the machine has been programmed to create the state anti-PSI in the test subject, i.e. to present information pathogenic to the world view of the test subject. Under normal circumstances, this information would be discarded by PSI. In this case, these mechanisms have been effectively disabled. The test subject would then enter a state of holosthetic psychosis, unable to create or maintain a consistent world view. The damage inflicted in such a condition could well be permanent.

Such an experiment would be analogous to the more prosaic forms of brainwashing.

While this experiment may seem predicated upon tools and technologies which are still some distance away, the effects of holosthesia upon PSI can not yet be well predicted. The biological boundary states expressed in PHI/Fx and Fx/PSI have chaotic components. It is therefore difficult to predict the results of an experiment, especially a highly complex one, involving mythology or ontology, before the experiment is performed. The change or addition of an otherwise inconspicuous component could have profound effects. It may be and probably is a great deal easier than the example given above to produce holosthetic psychosis. Even the experiment in telepresence expressed a significant portion of the PSI-state required to produce that condition. At the very least, it is important to note that speed-up in information absorption carries with it a consequent lack of discrimination, and this by itself can lead to holosthetic psychosis.

Reversals of an Overheated Medium: Limits of Holosthesia

In Laws of Media: The New Science, Marshal McLuhan identifies four components of any activity, whether technological or purely social, carried out by humans.

...We propose no underlying theory to attack or 
defend, but rather a heuristic device, a set of four 
questions, which we call a tetrad. They can be asked (and 
the answers checked) by anyone, anywhere, at any time, 
about any human artefact.  The tetrad was found by 
asking, "What general, verifiable (that is, testable) 
statements can be made about all media?"  We were 
suprised to find only four, here posed as questions:

* What does it enhance or intensify?
* What does it render obsolete or displace?
* What does it retrieve that was previously obsolesced?
* What does it produce or become when pressed to an extreme? [27]

Holosthetic media, like all other forms of media, can be analyzed through this tetrad. Of particular interest to the current work is the issue of the extreme case of holosthesia, the final item in the tetrad. The extreme of any medium produces reversal; that is, the phenomenon of speed-up, at its outermost limits, reverses the normal effect of the medium. Holosthesia is artifice, synthetic experience, but its reversal through speed-up is the opposite, reality. In this case the form of the medium is reversed from synthetic to physical, from interior experience to exterior reality. Holosthetic psychosis is a pathogenic state of the complete exteriorization of ontology, as the trans-space (discussed below) is a vivogenic state of this same exteriorization.

Telepathology: Cyberspace and Holosthetic Media

Cyberspace, as a specific form of holosthesia, is a communication space. Its essence is in that it is occupied[28]. In this case, PHI appears as the mediator between two presumably (but not necessarily) human entities. PHI is the Matrix, the network, the device(s) that facilitates the communication, but does not of necessity shape it. This is left to the participants in the communication. One goal of research into cyberspace systems is to optimize the interface between the participants, to present the clearest possible connection between the PSI of one participant and the PSI of another. This has been named post-symbolic communication [29]. In essence, such a device will create the sensation of empathy and telepathy. It is already possible, using telepresence, even if only in the most tenuous sense, for one human being to inhabit the "self" of another. This connection need not be fully bilateral; nothing guarantees it, and this is likely the greatest danger of holosthesia in cyberspace.

All of the possibilities present in the relationship between humans and holosthetic media are also present in the interrelationship of humans through holosthetic media in cyberspace. Pathologies are as possible, perhaps even more possible in cyberspace. For the moment, the only tool capable of adeptly manipulating a human mind is another human mind. The capability will come with us into cyberspace, but greatly amplified. Thus, cyberspace presents an opportunity for telepathology; the expression of pathogenic ontologies, through holosthetic media, from a distance.

Explorations of Holosthetic Space

Having framed the dangers of holosthetic media, that they do elicit a wide range of pathological physiological effects and an as-yet- undefined range of pathological psychological effects, it now becomes necessary to examine strategies for the prevention of pathologies. It is possible and desirable to develop a design methodology for holosthetic systems which tends away from pathology. To do otherwise could eventually endanger our sanity. Researchers in holosthetic media need to be able to identify those features which must be present to prevent holosthetic pathology.

The next portion of this work examines the basic relationships which exist between PHI, Fx, and PSI to serve as a guide to the construction of safe holosthetic media. While inherently safe media are an honorable design goal, it is as yet impossible to develop an accurate model for the cognitive effects of holosthesia. The most accurate model is the "real" world, but it is neither unsophisticated nor safe. Nevertheless, it is possible to use the human conception of real space, and the mechanisms already present in our biology and ontology, to maintain our sense of self in holosthesia.

Navigation within Holosthetic Spaces

The first prerogative in the engineering of a holosthetic environment is: design to avoid disorientation. Disorientation represents a step toward the amputation of the self, and necessarily precedes the dislocation of self that concludes in holosthetic psychosis. This portion of this work will concern itself with elements of this design.

Navigation, and the design of systems which promote self- orientation in holosthesia, should be a primary focus in development of holosthetic media. If you know where you are, you probably know who you are. As has been noted by Benedikt and others, aids to navigation, such as a clock dial on the horizon[30], or a well- defined "floor", are necessary features in a holosthetic space. Navigable space implies a continuity and regularity in holosthetic space which resembles "real" space, and provides a set of "cognitive handholds" which participants in the space can use to preserve their self-orientation. This metaphor could be extended as far as is desirable, with a sun in the sky to indicate up-down orientation, or perhaps a hand-held compass or world-map[31]. In general, the widest possible set of navigation aids should always be provided in holosthesia.

In addition, the author wishes to suggest that there should be another prerogative in the development of holosthetic environments. There should be a "real world", or "Earth"[32] present in cyberspace. This doubling of the physical world in holosthetic space can serve as both an experimental space, where the subconscious aspects of navigation can be explored and discovered, and as a transition space between the physical and holosthetic environments.

These suggestions primarily confine themselves to the visual realm, which is, in literate western civilization, the ultimate realm of organization. However, holosthesia may not have a strong visual component, or may lack it entirely. There is a need, therefore, for the development of cognitive handholds within other sensory modalities, to serve as "reality checks", navigation buoys in an invisible space.

A class of experimenters needs to be found with the specific skills needed to create these cognitive handholds. They will serve as the first "explorers" within holosthesia, and need to be trained to act as "rock climbers", placing the pitons in the sheer rock face of sensory experience. We have a suggestion from McLuhan on where to find and recruit such a class of explorers:

Artists in various fields are always the first to 
discover how to enable one medium to use or to release 
the power of another.[33]


Shakespeare speaks of a world which, by 
programming, as it were, one can play back the materials 
of the natural world in a variety of levels and intensities 
of style.  We are close to doing just this on a massive 
scale at the present time electronically.  Here is the image 
of the golden age as one of complete metamorphoses or 
translations of nature into human art, that stands ready 
of access to our electric age.[34]

Further, the electric age there is no longer any sense in 
talking about the artist's being ahead of his time.  Our 
technology is, also, ahead of its time, if we reckon by the 
ability to recognize it for what it is.  To prevent undue 
wreckage in society, the artist tends now to move from 
the ivory tower to the control tower of society.  Just a 
higher education is no longer a frill or luxury but a stark 
need of production and operational design in the electric 
age, so the artist is indispensable in the shaping and 
analysis and understanding of the life of forms, and 
structures created by electric technology.
        The percussed victims of new technology have 
invariably muttered clichˇs about the impracticality of 
artists and their fanciful preferences.  But in the past 
century it has come to be generally acknowledged that, in 
the words of Wyndham Lewis, "The artist is always 
engaged in writing a detailed history of the future 
because he is the only person aware of the nature of the 
present."  Knowledge of this simple fact is now needed for 
human survival.  The ability of the artist to sidestep the 
bully blow of new technology of any age, and to parry 
such violence with full awareness, is age-old. Equally age-
old is the inability of the percussed victims, who cannot 
sidestep the new violence, to recognize their need of the 
artist...The artist is the man in any field, scientific or 
humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and 
new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral 

And finally:

If it is true that the artist possesses the means of 
anticipating and avoiding the consequences of 
technological trauma, then what are we to think of the 
world and bureaucracy of "art appreciation"?  Would it 
not seem suddenly to be a conspiracy to make the artists 
a frill, a fribble, or a Milltown?  If men were able to be 
convinced that art is precise advance knowledge of how 
to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the 
next technology, would they all become artists?  Or would 
they begin a careful translation of new art forms into 
social navigation charts?  (My emphasis.)  I am curious to 
know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for 
what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange 
one's psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from 
our own extended faculties.  Would we, then, cease to 
look at works of art as an explorer might regard the gold 
and gems used as the ornament of simple nonliterates?
        At any rate, in experimental art, men are given the 
exact specifications of coming violence to their own 
psyches from their own counter-irritants (self-
amputations) or technology.  For those parts of ourselves 
that we thrust out in the form of new invention are 
attempts to counter or neutralize collective pressures and 
irritations.  But the counter-irritant usually proves a 
greater plague than the initial irritant, like a drug habit.  
And it is here that the artist can show us how to "ride 
with the punch," instead of "taking it on the chin."  It can 
only be repeated that human history is a record of 
"taking it on the chin."[36]

McLuhan points out that artists are the cultural agents of adaptation to new media, mapping disparate sensory modalities, and acting as the buffers of self-amputation. Experimental art in the twentieth century, then, is an attempt to map the holosthetic space created by electroplastic media. Artists' action in the present, as opposed to the reaction to the past, uniquely equips them to explore the rich but dangerous ground of holosthesia.

Art performs a necessary reversal of foreground and background, reversals common within holosthetic space. Artists create familiar objects in unfamiliar spaces and unfamiliar objects in familiar spaces. Both of these capabilities must be enlisted in the exploration of holosthetic space, and artists, as the individuals in our culture best-equipped to confront holosthesia, should form the "pioneer" base of this process.

It is unwise, however, to place too much faith in artists. The PHI/Fx/PSI interfaces under exploration in holosthetic space are essentially personal. Although human beings have a number of characteristics in common at the psychological and social level, artists can only explore the boundaries of their own personal holosthetic spaces. There are holosthetic spaces which can only be explored by individuals, which posses meaning (or pathology) only for them.

Explorers are charged with two tasks; the placement of navigation aids, our cognitive handholds, and the creation of maps.

Maps of Holosthetic Space

Humans have a substantial history of exploration, both at the cultural and the personal level. A common feature of exploration is the map, a tool for navigation in an unknown space. Maps are reassuring, they show humans what to expect within a space, and, to some degree, help to prepare them for it. Explorers of the holosthetic space must make a map of that space as it relates to pathogenic ontology. There already exists a substantial base of information with which such explorations can be guided. The exploration of holosthetic space is an exploration of the human perceptual space. Maps of the outside (cyberspace) are maps of the inside (perceptual space). Research into the scientific specifics of perception, a century of work, from William James to Edwin Land, should be drawn from and form the basis of such explorations. Yet this work confines itself to the biological aspects of perception, the PHI/Fx interface. Very little of it is applicable to the Fx/PSI interface, the architecture of the self. For this the cognitive psychologists provide some useful starting points, but hardly a detailed landscape. The holosthetic map must necessarily contain an ontological or mythological component to describe the effects of holosthetic spaces, in the language of PSI.

Using a mythological basis such as that presented by Carlos Castaneda, one possible map of holosthetic PSI-space could be divided into three components: the known, the unknown/knowable, and the unknown/unknowable.[38] In the realm of the known, familiar objects are found. This is the "real world" in holosthetic space. In the unknown/knowable realm, it is possible for an individual to comprehend the PSI-effects of holosthesia, and is possible to develop a framework for understanding and navigation within it. This is the space of cognitive handholds and navigation buoys. In the last case, unknown/unknowable, the structure of the holosthetic space itself is such that it defies both reason and myth. Nothing can be learned in such a space; it contains elements which represent anti-PSI influences. Such spaces should be identified by these explorers, marked on the maps, and avoided.

Here the limits of human expression become visible. It is necessary to create these maps of holosthesia, so that a mapping can be made of the regions of pathology. However, these spaces are not necessarily or primarily visual. Is it possible to create maps of non- visual holosthetic spaces, such as would be required for the exploration of haptic, kinesthetic or olfactory spaces, in such a way that the information can be conveyed to other people? Some work has been done on the mapping of the timbre space into the visual space[39], but a heavy reliance on our over-developed visual facility will leave some information outside of the realm of expression. The author proposes that an investigation begin into the study of "holosthetic cartography", the science underlying the design of such maps. This is analogous to and would draw from Robinett's proposed taxonomy of synthetic experience[40].

Once sufficient information has been gathered to create maps of the pathology of holosthetic space, experimenters will be able to "map out" those states within the devices producing holosthesia. In the production of commercially available holosthetic media, regulations may be required (similar to those required for other human-factors devices) to prevent the accidental or intentional marketing of devices which can produce pathogenic holosthesia. Fortunately, the unregulated products on the market presently or soon to be introduced are unsophisticated enough to severely restrict the range of holosthesia an individual may experience while using them, but there is no guarantee that these products are intrinsically safe.

Probable Pathogenic Ontologies

To focus now on the "content" of holosthetic space, i.e. the world-view or PSI-state expressed in holosthesia, forces a discussion of the mythology or ontology embodied in the design of such a holosthetic space. An examination will now be made of the ontological elements which could contribute to pathology in these spaces. Using the guidelines given above, the outlines of vivogenic holosthetic spaces are also clearly defined, and will be discussed in the context of games and communication.

Continuity and Mythological Space

A "mythos" or world-view is the dominant feature expressed in a holosthetic space. The expression of that mythology may be a conscious design goal, or it may be inferred from a contextual analysis of the space, but it in all ways permeates the holosthetic space. It is impossible to produce true holosthesia without an ontological component, that is to say, without a place for "being" in the world. The various sensory modalities may be tricked into a minimal holosthesia, but the participant will not "suspend disbelief" to enter the world.

Drawing upon the explorations of the human/machine interface of Laurel, which in turn draws upon the Dramatics of Aristotle, it is clear that one way to express the mythological component of a holosthetic space is through drama. The classical dramatic arc of exposition, inciting incident, rising action, crisis, climax, falling action and denouement would clearly express, even if only indirectly, the mythos of a holosthetic space.[41] Just as in the case of a poorly designed user interface, a confusion of these principles in holosthesia, with consequent violations of the expectations of dramatic causality, will lead to confusion within the space. As Benedikt says,

...After all, the ancient worlds of magic, myth, and legend 
to which cyberspace is heir...are replete with violations of 
the logic of everyday space and time...But let us notice two 
things: first that there is a limit to how frequent and 
severe such transgressions can become before credibility, 
orientation, and narrative power begin to be lost; and 
second, that myth and fiction do not contain violations of 
ordinary spaciotemporal logic but only descriptions of 
such violations.[42]

Due to the finite human capacity to withstand discontinuity, the need for spaciotemporal reason sets a clear boundary beyond which holosthetic space can not extend with any degree of safety. Discontinuity is an anti-PSI state, as PSI is responsible for orchestration of the events of perception into a continuum. This is not to say that classical drama presents the only model for interaction. A study of mythological archetypes, especially those which have evolved outside the flow of Western thought, could give rise to vivogenic environments which are not, in the strictest sense, rational, but adhere to and create worlds within deeper structures of PSI.

Broadcast Space

Of particular relevance, in the context of the current work, is the relationship between cyberspace and pathology. As has been stated previously, telepathology is one possible result of this relationship. Cyberspace is a region of communication; its form is dynamic and derived from the connections present, at any moment, within it.[43] Figure 2 shows a map of the "holosthetic connection space" as exists in cyberspace, where the axes shown are the number of participants involved in communication and the degree of bilateral holosthesia between the participants, i.e., the degree to which each party is fully capable of controlling the quality of the holosthesia expressed in the interaction. Almost all of the holosthetic connections controlled by only one (or very few) participants in the space are pathogenic. McLuhan states clearly:

Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous 
systems to the private manipulation of those who would 
try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears 
and nerves, we don't really have any rights left.  Leasing 
our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is 
like handing over the common speech to a private 
corporation, or giving the earth's atmosphere to a 
company as a monopoly.[44]

Broadcast holosthesia, the one-way relationship between one and many, represents, in most cases, a highly pathogenic ontology. The mythology inherent in such a space can only be autocratic or messianic.

That Hitler came into political existence at all is 
directly owing to radio and public address systems.  This 
is not to say that these media relayed his thoughts 
effectively to the German people...Radio provided the first 
massive experience of electronic implosion, that reversal 
of the entire direction and meaning of literate Western 

Holosthesia will create an implosion of much greater mega- tonnage than that provided by the introduction of radio. It reverses the foreground and background of the self, and the history of the self, in a final self-amputation. Yet, in the absence of safeguards, the experience of holosthetic autocracy will be dramatically easy to create. The design of holosthetic media, then, especially with respect to cyberspace, must tend away from broadcast holosthesia.

Eros and Thanatos: Pathology in the Dildonic Space

One of the rarely acknowledged but well-known ends of the development of holosthetic media is "dildonics". Theodor Nelson's term, to describe the sexual relationship between human and machine, or human-to-human mediated by machine, raises a host of issues involving the interface between human biology and the conception of self.[46] Stone, in her interviews with phone sex workers, outlines the creation of a sexual ontology, constructed over the low-fidelity telephone, in which the worker deftly manipulates the client's PSI-state with a stream of information:

Phone sex is the process of provoking, satisfying, 
constructing desire through a single mode of 
communication, the telephone.  In the process, 
participants draw on a repertoire of cultural codes to 
construct a scenario that compresses large amounts of 
information into a very small space.  The worker verbally 
codes for gesture, appearance, and proclivity, and 
expresses these as tokens, sometimes in no more than a 
word.  The client uncompresses these tokens and 
constructs a dense, complex interactional image...This act 
is thoroughly individual and interpretive; out of a highly 
compressed token of desire the client constitutes meaning 
that is dense, locally situated, and socially particular.[47]

These "tokens of desire" are themselves highly "tuned" to elicit specific, if personal, responses, and represent the "high-fidelity" transmission of PSI-state from one communicant to another.

Here the primary question is of the relationship between sexuality and pathology, and how, mythologically, each expresses itself in the other. The long-term existence of an S/M subculture and the recent appearance of the cyberpunk-cum-"Modern Primitives" are the visible evidences of such a relationship. However, our earliest civilizations show a common consciousness of the connection between sexuality and pathology. Pathology may be the essence of sexual reproduction. Thomson writes: is the courtship dance of conflict...Sexual 
reproduction introduces death, for it produces new 
individuals that, by virtue of being limited and highly 
specific beings, must die.  The asexual cell divides itself 
ad infinitum and therefore never fully dies; the 
parthenogenite reduplicates itself in a daughter that is 
practically a clone, but the sexual organism reproduces 
itself and then moves that much closer to death.  
Reproduction is the climax of life; in some species, the 
postcoital male immediately dies or is consumed by the 
        If death is part of the deep mystery of sexuality, 
and le grand mort overshadows le petit mort, and if 
sexual reproduction is a force that produces new 
individuated beings, then perhaps we can understand 
why the sadist has coupled pain, death, and terror with 
the beauty of sexuality.  The archangel of evolution, the 
Archon, created the human sexual body, and with it, 
death.  The sadist simply shoves death into the Archon's 
face, as if to say, "See, this is your work."
        ...Love and death, Eros and Thanatos: sexual 
reproduction is a metaphysic of conflict, and the twisting 
of the human body in sexual perversion tells us 
something about the spiritual limits of human 

From Oedipus to Freud, love and death have always been paired archetypes. Hence, one flavor of the human sexual drive is to "push the envelope" within the field of sexual experience, up to (or beyond) the limits of pathology. This will present a very compelling temptation to creators and users of holosthetic media. Without being prudish, the author wishes to suggest that the first accidental sufferers of holosthetic psychosis will encounter it during experiments in dildonics. Caution is especially required in the exploration of dildonic holosthesia, because biology would, of its own, tend away from it.

Probable Vivogenic Ontologies

Of equal importance to the mapping of holosthetic zones of pathogenic ontology is the identification of those factors which produce a vivogenic holosthesia, an environment which, in the very elements of its design, tends away from pathology. Certain safeguards for human biology can and will be built into holosthetic media, but no mechanism can detect the presence of a pathogenic ontology. In vivogenic ontologies, a careful selection of a mythology and the creation of a nurturing "place for one's self" are absolute necessities.


We think of humor as a mark of a person of sanity 
for a good reason: in fun and play we recover the integral 
person, who in the workaday world or in professional life 
can use only a small sector of his being...Games are 
popular art, collective, social reactions to the main drive 
of any culture.  Games, like institutions, are extensions of 
social man and of the body politic... games and 
technologies are counter-irritants or way of adjusting to 
the stresses of the specialized actions that occur in any 
social group...Games are dramatic models of our 
psychological lives providing release of particular 
tensions.  Ancient and nonliterate societies naturally 
regarded games as live dramatic models of the universe 
or of the outer cosmic drama.[49]

It sounds here as if McLuhan was describing the perfect form of involvement in holosthesia. Games are stress-relievers, and connect humans, at a basic level, to themselves and their beliefs about the world. Games, as restricted forms of behavior, with their own complex of internal rules systems, are, by and large, the least pathogenic forms of holosthetic media. Figure 3 shows a map of the "holosthetic rule space", with one axis extending from complete inflexibility to complete flexibility, and the other index showing the number of rules. As can be seen, both complete flexibility of the rule space and spaces with only a few rules can be pathogenic. Our own world-views support thousands if not millions of rules of which we surrender (or augment) only a portion while participating in a game.

Used as an example, SIMNET, the Defense Department's battle- readiness simulation training system (specifically, a cyberspace), shows how humans can quickly adapt and come to "enjoy" a game- based holosthesia. Indeed, most participants feel as though they were "really there", fighting the battle, and exit the system praising the "reality" of what is, in fact, a low-fidelity experience. The rule set of SIMNET, however, exactly conforms to the rules of engagement (on both physical and ontological levels) that the participant has been trained to expect. The fulfillment of expectations in game- based holosthesia is part of the enjoyment, whereas the lack of rules or the arbitrary mutability of these rules would produce confusion. The holosthetic mythology of game space conforms to that of dramatic space. McLuhan adds:

In a word, does not Aristotle's idea of drama as 
mimetic reenactment and relief from our besetting 
pressures apply perfectly to all kinds of games and dance 
and fun? [50]

As can be seen on the map of holosthetic connection space given in Figure 2, games in cyberspace are thoroughly democratic systems of communication, insofar as their rules allow. All play, within the rules, is safely bilateral. If the rules are known and agreed to in advance, any lack of bilaterality is replaced with a meta- bilaterality, the social contract that participants accept to enter the game. "Simon Sez," for all of its childishness, speaks volumes about the social contract implicit in the game; that even liberties integral to the self can be safely suspended for specific purposes.


One approach in the design of a vivogenic space would be to focus upon the mythology present in such a space, and bring it into the foreground. For ourselves as humans, this tradition comes from shamans and high priests, from covens and conclaves. It is, viewed from the self, a "religious" event, or space, a place where the gods speak and are spoken to.

It therefore seems reasonable to assume that humans will want to worship in holosthesia, and that, because of its form, holosthetic media will amplify that desire. In cyberspace there may be a holosthesia that is less communication than communion. Certainly the capability immediately exists for darshan, the mystical experience of being simultaneously present with a multitude of others. When it is possible, in a few years, to gather a billion people into a single space, fidelity may not be necessary to produce the sensation of a profound, and for some, mystical, experience.

Bilateral media, such as the telephone, create a profound sensation of personal space. They create a sense of self and diminish the possibility of autocracy.

...the telephone, intimate and personal, is the most 
removed of any medium from the P.A. form.  Thus wire-
tapping seems even more odious than the reading of 
other people's letters.[51]

It is possible to extend this even further. The map shown in Figure 2 outlines a region spread over the right hand-side which the author has chosen to call trans-space. At its most comprehensive, it represents the fully multilateral, holosthetic union of a large number of human beings. The author has no wish to speculate about the qualities of trans-space, except to state that it could well be a "holy" place.

Incorporated Experience

One of the outcomes of long-term exposure to high-fidelity holosthetic media may well be a progressive blurring of the "in-here" and "out-there" sensory modalities, with consequent confusions in the psyche. Well-designed holosthesia will linger in the consciousness, and perhaps form part of the human experience-base. This "incorporated experience" [52] will not be based on physical actualities, but rather, on the subtle interplay of biology, mythology and ontology. It is also possible that as the base of incorporated experience extends within an individual, that individual will broaden the plasticity of their ontology, i.e. have a greater tolerance for and the ability to survive in the presence of previously pathogenic ontologies. Our children, without an extensive experience-base to serve as filter and navigation guide, will incorporate much more holosthetic experience into their self-ontology than those who have formed a self and personality in the absence of such technologies. Those who have grown up in holosthesia will have considerably more plastic definitions of their "selves" and of "reality". These humans will weave experiential modes, both physical and holosthetic, to arrive at a new understanding of self. They will be able to tolerate spaces that others, less flexible in their ontologies, would find immediately pathogenic.

The expression of experience gathered by a participant in a holosthetic space safe to the participant, but pathogenic to others, can not occur. The expression would need to take place within that space itself. When the human experience base has become so broad that human communication becomes impossible across certain boundaries, a threshold of note has been crossed. It is the author's assertion that the next generation of children, raised in holosthesia, will be very different from their parents, so much so that the TV- generation "gap" will seem ridiculous in comparison. With holosthetic media we are creating a new language. Like any highly complex language, only native speakers will have "internal fluency" in the nuances and idioms of that language. Our children will be those native speakers.


This work, which is at best introductory, outlines some of the mechanics and specifics of a new human relationship. There is a dialectical, biological process involved in the relation of humans to their machines, as has been carefully outlined by McLuhan, Stone, Warner, and others. This dialectical relationship can be expressed in both scientific or mythological terms. Holosthesia and holosthetic media require that both languages be employed, for we are engaged in making machines that can contain our myths. This simultaneously represents a chance for ecstatic communion or the utter destruction of self, for darshan and Gehenna. These machines can be employed in malevolent ways, either by themselves or through the agency of others, can speak to and subvert us at our most vulnerable inner selves.

We have created the most potent technology for mind control since the advent of human culture; if we remain ignorant of this potential we will inevitably pay a heavy price for it. The potentials for addiction and enslavement do not outweigh the potentials for creative play and communication, but to ignore one and focus on the other is both short-sighted and foolhardy. The decisions made today by the architects and designers of holosthetic media will set the tone, define the mythos, for the coming community. We must do our best to construct a vivogenic cyberspace, one that supports both individual and community, where every person can extend their creative potential, free from pathogenic influences.

The situation speaks for itself. By Christmas in 1993, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of children will be enjoying holosthesia daily. Fortunately, the hardware is primitive, the range of possible effects narrow, and, directed as they are toward entertainment, the market will provide a range of games, safe content for a dangerous medium. In this there is some temporary refuge.

A few years will pass before high-fidelity holosthesia becomes widely available. Then, only our research, exploration and mapping can guarantee our safety. We would do well to begin a full-scale investigation of pathogenic holosthesia, ferret out those spaces, and write on the maps "Here Be Dragons!" A future Columbus may prove us wrong, but to err on the side of caution will save ourselves, and our children, from an uncertain insanity.


I have drawn from and am indebted to two individuals from whom I drew the structure for this work: Marshall McLuhan and Dr. David Warner. Dr. William Martens contributed holosthesia, a very useful word, and has provided extensive documentation, based upon his own work, to support my thesis. Both W. Gregory Jacobsen and Robert Powers were instrumental in helping me outline and organize the concepts expressed. In addition, I would like to thank Dr. Sandy Stone, the gang at Ono-Sendai: Michael Donahue, Darr Aley, Marc de Groot, bandit, Michael Perry, Dan Lynch (very special thanks for his artistic contributions to this work), Rosemary Machado and Timothy Childs, Peter Kennard, D. Owen Rowley, Linda Fleming, and Dr. Stephen Corey. Lastly, I would like to thank my family, who has consistently supported me throughout my years of research.

Bibliography and References

1.  McLuhan, Marshal, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 
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2.  Martens, William, Spacial Image Formation in Binocular Vision 
and Binaural Hearing, 3D Media Technology Conference, 1989.

3.  "An Interview with Jaron Lanier", Mondo 2000, #2, Fall 1990, p. 

4.  Hill, Geoffrey, Illuminating Shadows: The Mythic Power of Film, 
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5.  Thomson, William Irwin, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: 
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6.  Op. cit., McLuhan, p. 64.

7.  Ibid., p. 68.

8.  Ibid., p. 45.

9.  Ibid., p. 42.

10.  Stone, Allucquere Rosanne, Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?: 
Boundary Stories about Virtual Cultures, Cyberspace: The First Steps, 
Benedikt, ed. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991.  p. 110.

11.  Kapor, Mitch, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1991.

12.  Toffler, Alvin, Future Shock, Bantam Books, New York, 1970, p. 

13.  Toffler, Alvin, Powershift, Random House, New York, 1991, p. 45.

14.  Op. cit., Stone, p. 108.

15.  Warner, David.  Conversations with the author.

16.  Huxley, Aldous, The Doors of Perception, Harper & Row, New 
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17.  Taylor, et. al., The Nanomanipulator: An Atomic-Scale 
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18.  Laurel, Brenda, ed., The Art of Human-Computer Interface 
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19.  Donahue, Michael J. and Pesce, Mark D., A Low-Cost Telepresence 
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20.  Robinett, Warren, Virtual Worlds Research at the University of 
North Carolina, University of North Carolina, 1991.

21.  We recognize this as a fault of the system.  Ideally, the cameras 
would be able to "cross" their lenses and so fuse the binocular field.

22.  Fuller, R. B., Critical Path, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1981, pp. 

23.  Rheingold, Howard, Virtual Reality, Summit Books, New York, 
1991.  p. 255-256.

24.  Tomas, David, Old Rituals for a New Space: Rites de Passage and 
William Gibson's Cultural Model of Cyberspace, Cyberspace: The First 
Steps, Benedikt, ed. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991.  p. 41.

25.  Peck, M. Scott, The People of The Lie, Random House, New York, 
1983, p. 129.

26.  Op. cit., Rheingold, pp. 68-69.

27.  McLuhan, Marshall and McLuhan, Eric, Laws of Media: The New 
Science, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1988, p. 7.

28.  Benedikt, Michael, Cyberspace: Some Proposals, Cyberspace: The 
First Steps, Benedikt, ed. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991.  p. 160.

29.  Lanier, Jaron, Virtual Reality: A Status Report, Cyberarts: 
Exploring Art and Technology, Jacobson, ed., Miller Freeman, San 
Francisco, 1992, p. 279.

30.  George, Stan,  Cyberspace: The First Steps, Benedikt, ed. MIT 
Press, Cambridge, 1991, plate 4.

31.  Pesce, Mark D. and Donahue, Michael J., Elements: The Navigation 
of Cyberspace.  1991.  Unpublished.

32.  Stephenson, Neal, Snow Crash, Bantam Books, New York, 1992, p. 

33.  Op cit., McLuhan, p. 54.

34.  Ibid., p. 59. 

35.  Ibid., p. 65.

36.  Ibid., p. 66.

37.  Castaneda, Carlos, The Fire from Within, Simon and Schuster, 
New York, 1984, p. 75.

38.  Martens, William, Palette:  An Environment for Developing an 
Individualized Set of Psychophysically Scaled Timbres, Northwestern 
University, 1988.

40.  Robinett, Warren, A Proposed Taxonomy of Synthetic Experience, 
University of North Carolina, 1992.

41.  Laurel, Brenda, Computers as Theatre, Addison-Wesley, New 
York, 1991, p. 86.

42.  Op. cit., Benedikt, p. 128.

43.  Ibid., p. 180.

44.  Op. cit., McLuhan, p. 68.

45.  Ibid., p. 300.

46.  Op. cit., Rheingold, p. 179.

47.  Op. cit., Stone, p. 103.

48.  Op. cit., Thomson, pp. 53-54.

49.  Op. cit., McLuhan, pp. 235-236.

50.  Ibid., p. 238.

51.  Ibid., p. 265.

52.  Chrichton, Michael, The Terminal Man, Bantam Books, 1973, p. 187