Theories and Metaphors of Cyberspace- Abstracts

Cyberception and the Paranatural Mind:
an artist's perspective

By Roy Ascott

  • Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts
  • Gwent College of Higher Education, Wales


    The art of the latter part of this century has found much metaphorical and practical value in cybernetics. This is especially so in the case of art involving interactive media, an art in which the viewer is empowered to participate in the creative systems which the artist initiates. Similarly potent are the metaphors of physics, not least that of the wormhole. Wormholes tunnel through quantum foam. Tunnelling through what might be called "datafoam" from one hyperlinked layer to another, shooting the wormholes from one telepresence to another, from one website to another, is just precisely what we do as artists working in the post-biological culture. We wormhole in the brain as we search for new associations, new connections, new meanings, in a kind of cognitive tunnelling. The telematic culture weaves its global webs so densely that tunnelling between disparate sites, a kind of worldwide wormholing, is an inevitable consequence.

    Just as the electronics revolution, which led from telecommunications to the computer, is now taking place in the human brain and extending our conception of mind, so the mind is spilling out into the world, conferring intelligence on more and more parts of the built environment.. We are moving towards a culture of bioelectronics, of intelligent architecture and the self-organising,and eventually no doubt, self-aware systems of artificial life. We have entered the noetic domain, and consciousness is at the top of our agenda.

    Electronic art is becoming bio-electronic art, just as the primary element of its practice, the microchip is becoming the molecular bio chip. We are moving towards the spiritual in art in ways that Kandinsky could hardly have imagined, such that telepresence will be accompanied by teleprescience, and cybernetic systems will integrate with psychic systems, mutating into what could be called psi-bernetics.

    Isao Karube of Tokyo University asserts that the inner energy "Ki" developed in the esoteric discipline Kiko-jutsu might possibly be measured by a sensor, perhaps a quantum wave sensor that works on a completely new theoretical basis. As he sees it, "now that people's attention is turning towards the inner world, in the developed countries where materialism has reached saturation point, the future of electronics depends on the problem of what sort of approach to take towards the brain, the neurons, and the mind". In Britain, Roger Penrose is arguing that the mechanism for consciousness involves quantum gravitational phenomena, acting through microtubules in neurons. At Qinghan University in Peking, research into "qigong" seeks to apply extra sensory perception, X-ray vision and telekinesis to the control of molecular structure, to horticulture , medicine and the exploration of space.

    The emerging human faculty of "cyberception" is enabling us to enter into both inner and outer worlds more deeply than our unaided natural senses hitherto permitted. The emergence of Paranature - with its symbiosis of mind, technology and artificial/living systems - confers upon us a great responsibility for the kind of worlds we construct. The artist, after being suspended for the last thirty years in a state of post-modern moral weightlessness , is now subject to the gravity of ethics, and must find new values and a new morality .

    The artist can play a useful part in this, leading us through art to the collective intelligence of the hypercortex, the distributed mind of the telematic domain. The hypercortex calls for the recognition of a hyperbody and the housing of the hyperbody, a new kind of body politic, calls for an intelligent architecture.

    The wormhole, in the fullness of its metaphorical reach, identifies the next great challenge for urban design and the ways we might relate to our new view of nature, paranature. With the advent of smart materials and self-regulating systems promising the emergence of an intelligent architecture, urban design is becoming cyburban design, and it is there in the cyburbs that we shall need to be able to wormhole effortlessly between real and virtual locations, meeting with real bodies and telepresences in the same continuum.

    The city must gather up its suburbs, dislocate its centre, redesignate and redistribute its functional parts. If Architecture cannot respond radically to the advent of smart materials, intelligent systems, and nano-engineering, then we shall be unable to realise the vision of a sensuous city to complement our post-biological condition. How then shall we accommodate the technology of consciousness, house the cybernaut, service the telemadic traveller, or farm artificial life? In this respect it is not simply cyburban design which is on the line but our own bionic evolution.

    Once the interface moves into the brain, once electronic sensors routinely utilise biological elements, once semiconductor devices use living micro-organisms, the artificial neural networks will join with our own biological neural networks into a seamless cognitive whole. The artist's role is to apply his advanced cyberception to the emerging paranatural mind.