The final draft of this article is now published here.
I have not posted much here for while because I have been very busy working to complete the robomancy and technomancy projects, but I would take a moment to write briefly about something that has been on my mind—and on my face—much of late.
I recently acquired a Samsung Gear VR headset which is quite a lot nicer than my Google Cardboard one. I have dozens of ideas for sorcerous applications of this technology, but one theme I continue to explore through my technomantic and robomantic Work is telepresence. VR can teleport you to a virtual reconstruction of the Temple of Delphi, or a temple of Zhothaqquah on Cykranosh, or a place more abstract than could exist outside cyberspace. It has the potential to situate you in the same ritual space with participants who are physically far remove from your proximity. VR is immersive in ways the 2D (or flat 3D) interfaces I design are not.
Take StreetView VR for example. You can pull up Google StreetView on your smart phone or personal computer and look at a 3D photograph of many places. Here is the Museum of Witchcraft in Bostcastle, one of my favorite places in the world. You can continue “walking” down toward the harbor or go up the street into town.
StreetView VR shows you the same thing but you are more “in it.” You can be looking at the museum and physically turn your head around and now you are looking at the bridge across Valency. It is not in real time, and it is certainly not the best way to get in touch with the genius loci of a place (for that you need to take your body to wherever you wish to commune), but inasmuch as a photograph may be regarded as a magical link, the ability to immersively situate yourself within a photograph is pretty cool. You could also use a 360° camera to take photos of places to virtually work within, or set up a 360° live video feed in the midst of, say, a temple populated with your partners in maleficium.
It would not take much to develop responsive sigil overlays or other magical interface elements for this sort of thing, but even without such enhancements you may use your imagination to project or receive ætheric impressions.
[This is a guest post by Frater Kainos, who has been experimenting with the Oculus Rift. I am honored to publish it here on hyperRitual. // Joshua]
For I believe it could completely overturn our present ideas of reality and illusion, and restore rather than destroy the magic and mystery of existence.  // Ram-See-Dukes
On the 6th of June 2013 at around 10 a.m., we began the restoration in earnest. Innovations that currently sit in development stage, play alongside long-standing skills and tools to permit an immersion into created verisimilitude in long predicted and anticipated ways, and now ascend into experiences that further blur our concepts of reality.
In ’88, whilst the Second Summer of Love danced, Ramsey Dukes tangoed with philosophical questions of consciousness and the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), creating narrative and an accompanying paradox to illuminate the dark corners of the glimpsed emergent world. These considerations played off the back of those reality engineers and storywriters who laid down the rhythms years before my consciousness took shape. Now sitting here with my own set of Pygmalion’s Spectacles on the workbench next to me, I not only enjoy Weinbaum’s unfolding story of elfin professors , but contemplate my own meeting of such within immersion. Exploring such phantomatics takes me a step further in, and I begin to look beyond to the possible futures of experience that we now prepare à briser, with aplomb.
Leaping into the nascent current of created emergent reality seems paradoxically like the oldest trick in the book. Our imaginal realities have long beaconed us in as we look into the stars, the river, the clouds. Our minds wander within the perceived reality of sense, interpreting and decoding information from many more than the simple five often spoken of. Memory and other ill-defined and elusive processes betray internal worlds of creativity that imagine possibilities and experiences; recording, editing and playing back previous, current and future events as tools for success, distraction and peril. Infinite variety of experience awaits without seemingly doing anything tangible at all, save for perhaps sometimes slowing our selves as we gaze inwardly. Or perhaps, in the midst of evocation, calls made, the emergent form apparates, and we converse.
So what of immersion? Well you should know; you find your selves immersed in reality right now. Whether the technology of storytelling, the spoken word poem or pathworking, the teletube or the radio, we receive our cues of the reality we inhabit, and seeking such immersion seems to prove a primary toolkit. In speaking of current experiments of VR, we speak of visual and audio — often primary modalities — as providing our baseline for experience. For years we have viewed each other through the fourth wall of the theatre, the projection screen and many other modes, surrounded or alone, experiencing story and report of elsewhere and elsewhen. As mentioned earlier, we have participated in Droste-like experiences of watching others act out their own immersion. Fractally dissolving into worlds that might prove non-intimate but nevertheless tangible in their Inception :). I don’t think I overstate in applying Erik Davis’ assertion that the “characters, objects, and images take on the phantasmagoric force of alchemy’s visionary internal dramas”  to how this excites, inspires and motivates the magician.
So what of it? When donning the headgear of a VR helmet, our perception changes instantly. We can perceive a created space, a world. The internal electronics of the device track our head movements so that as we enjoy our six degrees of freedom; the world we now inhabit begins to become real. Now we add a soundtrack to our entered reality, and we enjoy surrounding soundscapes; our synced audio modality confirms our place in this world. With these two senses immersed, our more subtle senses act accordingly. Our sense of balance becomes more acute; our sense of height (if we experience it in the space) can promote fear and vertigo. Other senses not so well accounted for in this new world, stretch out and feel for input. We might be surprised to find that our sense of temperature fluctuates as our spinal axons engage, creating input from the reality that as yet does not accommodate.
With just the headgear (goggles and ‘phones), we inhabit a discorporeal existence. So far we apparate as only floating eyes and ears. We stand and sit in two worlds simultaneously. The manifest floor or chair provides our stability, while in the artificial reality we can never climb the stairs but float them. This tends to account for the cybersickness that some experience; a mismatch between ocular and sonic and kinetic. It takes time to adjust to the new duality. We have shifted half of our selves into the new world. We remain aware of both, but we do believe. It simply proves too tempting. The accurate motion tracking, the low latency, the acceptable resolution: It all floats around the blurry gradients of consciousness and we accept the new reality.
I cannot overstate the experience. Depending on the created reality we do seem to get a level of ill ease as we submerge, experience and emerge from an instantly available reality. We almost find it too easy, too quick, so training and experience become a necessity. Ginger! This fills the taste-void of created reality, at least for us, for now. But we might look to draw from the Pharmacopoeia … dimenhydrinate, cinnarizine, meclozine, scopolamine … These compounds may prove useful in the adaption process. In the meantime, having a fair-size bucket handy proves good practice, too, as we get well into these new worlds.
The temple we currently devise and construct takes the headgear a bit further. Already available technologies get experimented with in the temple architecture and facilities. Motion sensing input devices commonly found on gaming consoles, can provide us with the ability to interact with our reality using gesture. Programmed to recognise our moves, we can speak the language of body and have interpretation happen realtime. An array of such sensors can provide enough data to map the key points of the human body, so that an avatar can move with us. In setting up such an array, we become corporeal once more, further immersed and able to see ourselves. Floor pressure sensors can aid us, too. Depending on what we do with our feet or else, we can interact and move within new worlds in new ways. Wired gloves — the staple visage of VR experience proves exciting. The emergent tech of magnetic motion sensing offers us possibilities that make interacting novel. We might sculpt and create, model and massage, using gear that extends our concept of manual to intricate new ways of manipulation.
In turning to intelligence, it seems a matter of imagination. In one way, the mage who has invoked form into herself takes on the manifest form of the divinity. We can stand in greater awe, as the immersed priestess transforms into god before our eyes, and as we apprehend our god we can get ever closer to the divine.
Programmed intelligence can and does interact with us; crowds part, react and interact. Might we begin to lose awareness of the difference between real and simulated? Do our siblings’ avatars differ so that we can tell them apart from reality? All of a sudden, Ramsey Dukes’s paradoxes engulf us.
What of consciousness itself? These technologies hold the hopes of myriad possibilities, from gaming to therapy. In thinking of and exploring these techs, as a magician, we stand on new frontiers. With our highly trained skills in immersion in other realities, we can now seek to explore inner worlds of our own making, and see what proves possible in practice.
It remains naïve and wonderful that we can create immersive pathworkings, and we delightedly anticipate just how much our mileage will vary. It remains exciting to see how our focus and concentration can manifest with augmented reality. It remains tantalising to test how we can interact with each other, our new worlds and intelligences we have yet to meet in these realms. In exploring consciousness, we open the doorways to ever deeper and more complex realities. Our immersement becomes at least a potential aid to our exploring. As mentioned earlier (although more obtusely), these explorations do not form a new emergence, but a new mergence. The various technologies meet in new ways and make new possibilities. This alchemy of manifestation takes a curious and curated approach to our reality engineering, creation and exploration.
To this end, already, we observe the swapping and sharing of realities via the nets and on chips. These Reality Exchanges (RelX, pr. Relics) can prove nodal and compact. A single piece of silicon or data set on a drive, becomes the unit of code (spelled and syntaxed) that facilitates our experience. RelX now get swapped — manual included or not. A RelX forms a token, a totem and the process. Such artefacts gets created by the likes of me, and shared with others with love and curiosity. For as a curator of reality, an initiate of experiential creativity, my worlds, my environs, my entities and AIs become larger and more corporeal, as they get explored, enlarged, recoded and recycled.
But nodal experience forms only one direction. It seems obvious, when known, that the proprietors of large scale sim world Second Life (Linden Labs) already test out integration with the development pre-production models of the VR headgear, Oculus Rift. Second Life, for all its sim-sins, provides a huge and flexible reality that immersive experience will only benefit from. Of course, such corporate giants are not nearly the only fruit. Open-source initiatives such as Open Sim can beckon the immersive experience, too. So in building a grid, I can break and make reality any which way I want. For in doing so, I already and will continue to explore the magical and mystical in each of the realities I inhabit. Blurring realities with intent :)
In turning to the vanguard of electronic wizardry, looking at the excellent work of our thaumaturge myridon, hyperRitual, we find a mage exploring the possibilities in novel ways. His exploration of programming code and robotics, and their application in ritual, proves inspiring. It was browsing his essays and experiments that I realised: by building a quadcopter with dual mounted cameras, I can drive the copter in first person. My six degrees of headset motion tracking, combined with the stability and flexibility of the copter, means that I can explore my blue planet reality in new ways. With a decent transmitter and some improved solar tech, the sky might not prove the limit. Of course, the war drones, gaining so much criticism, already show us the piloted death from above. But for a mage of aspiring peace, the opportunity to explore the world this way, allows me a bird’s eye view. Shall we all meet as hovering automatons? We can fly together and explore great heights. The ethical implications of personal drones have already emerged on the nets; the reality of it seems not so far behind.
And yes, it seems no doubt that such mergences of technologies show their neutral nature. For as with the mage, the variable morality of possibilities and what works will ever test our resolves. And yes, I remain sure that these techs that I currently pursue will get consumed like all else. Those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing will ever hawk their wares at the stall of ease. But like so much of the hidden world of subcultures, many of us pursue these experiments to our own, equally occult, ends. You might meet me somehow, someway, and I will gladly exchange RelX with you. But with no doubt, this for me forms an extension of Punk, Rave, Mage and Hacker. So… D.I.Y! If you do come to me wanting realities created … Think of a number and start multiplying. I enjoy the rare and refined companionship of magicians who have the knowledge and will to explore every reality they can think of … And our plans might indeed change many worlds.
- Ramsey Dukes, Words Made Flesh, 1988.
- “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” by Stanley G. Weinbaum, 1935, 6/35 Wonder.
- Erik Davis, Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Information Age, 1998.
In a sense, the rituals are always the same — they are the bits and pieces of behavior that our brains are wired for. What’s new are the tools we can use. When magicians in the Middle Ages suddenly had access to printed books, for instance, or forged tools and talismans, it allowed us to increase the intensity and practicality of the rituals. Now we have computers and the ‘net. I think exploring those tools as magical media is important in a few different ways.
hyperRitual: Phil, you wrote about online magic over 10 years ago. Some things have changed since then, for example we now have Second Life and Meta-Magick. Would you please explain how you became involved in this new project, what it is, and what possibilities you foresee for it?
Phil: Way back when, reading Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, I had the idea that cyberspace would be a 3D, second world kind of place, and that we should be able to create imaginative environments for ourselves in virtual reality. I immediately started speculating on VR as a magick medium, a place where we could create temples and symbols and so forth quite easily. The whole immersive VR thing has never really taken off as a mass phenom, with Second Life being one of the few exceptions — and even that isn’t all that well-known to the vast majority of web-surfers.
I’ve been following the work of Gina Pickersgill and others who have been taking NLP and a variety of healing modalities into the 3D environment of Second Life. Gina took me on a tour of her “Healing Pool” area of SL, in which she created a magick circle and ritual area. I was very impressed by the physical response the ritual area prompted in me and realized that we had the means for doing something really cool.
Myron Krueger, one of the pioneers of virtual reality, called VR “a whole new realm of human experience in which the laws of cause and effect are composed by the artist, which sounds pretty magical to me. Do you suppose that what you propose is just a cyber-skin for the old ceremony, or is something genuinely new happening here?
In a sense, the rituals are always the same — they are the bits and pieces of behavior that our brains are wired for. What’s new are the tools we can use. When magicians, in the Middle Ages, suddenly had access to printed books, for instance, or forged tools and talismans, it allowed us to increase the intensity and practicality of the rituals. Now we have computers and the ‘net. I think exploring those tools as magical media is important in a few different ways.
First, we can add intensity to our work. Recent studies have shown that watching your avatar potentiates learning in a variety of ways. It’s a weird and fairly pleasant feeling to watch your self-imagined avatar interacting. Probably more of us have experienced that thrill playing video games, and it’s even more intense when you have the power to customize the avatar and have a much greater flexibility of behavior. In the language of neuroscience that I’ve been working with, it’s a great way to get your mirror neurons involved — and these are the parts of the brain intricately tied in with our ability to create symbols and metaphors.
Second is the sense of connection that many people feel when using the ‘net. When the ‘net first started gaining popularity in the ’90s, quite a few theorists claimed that it would be a kind of dry and emotionless realm because it wouldn’t substitute for the sense of connection that humans feel in face-to-face encounters. In reality, humans are way more flexible than these theorists considered and we not only adapt, but find ways to intensify the connections. This is illustrated by the popularity of, for instance, social networking, cybersex, and so on.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, I think we have to place all of our new technology in contexts where it can be used for things other than simply making money. In a sense, we have to spiritualize it, to realize that our human aspirations and imagination are more important than the financial bottom line.
There exists a popular notion (which I disagree with) that video game playing lacks imagination, that it is only slightly less passive than watching television. On the other end of the spectrum, magic often involves active imagination — projected visualizations, intended hallucinations, and the like. What do you think about constructing virtual artifacts that mediate our magical experiences? What happens when instead of interacting with entities on the “astral plane,” we interact with SL items that simulate such entities with more or less fidelity? Can we simultaneously and/or complementarily use both astral and virtual entities in magic?
I think the “astral plane” can best be defined as the realm of imagination and when we create imaginatively in any media, we are simultaneously using that media and the “astral” as well. When a traditional magician uses pen and ink to write an invocation, or creates a sigil on paper, or forges tools for ritual use, he or she is already using both the imaginative and the “real.” I think that using SL will be a difference of tools, but not of kind.
Anyway, as I said, I was very impressed with Gina’s virtual temple space and thought it as powerful as many “real world” temples I’ve visited. As to how the Meta-Magick entities will turn out in SL, that’s what we’re going to experiment with in this workshop. I think it’s going to be very cool and very effective, though I suggest we all allow for a learning curve.
Similar to the previous question, but let’s talk about body consciousness for a moment (which, by the way, was important to Krueger who said that physical participation is the key distinction of virtual reality, and “rather than denying the body, virtual reality reconnects it to the life of the mind”): What do you think about physical interaction with Second Life, with most of it mediated by a computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse (but note that developments in gestural interfaces, e.g. the Wii remote, are making available a greater variety of physical interactions)? What may be lost or gained by, say, watching your SL avatar perform the LBRP when you press a key sequence, vs. getting up and doing the motions yourself?
There was a study not too long ago in which participants watched their avatars run on a treadmill or not run on a treadmill. The ones who watched themselves run felt much stronger urges to actually get on a treadmill and exercise. Very simply, watching human-like images activates our mirror neuron system and our minds make an internal model of the behavior and, in effect, try it on for size. The MNS is composed largely of motor neurons, of brain cells that otherwise are used to move muscles and perform actions. As a result there is something visceral about watching an avatar of yourself move. It’s even more powerful when you are controlling the avatar yourself.
It’s somewhat like the response we have when we read a book or watch a movie. We sympathize with the characters, feel what they do, and perhaps even emulate it in our lives. It might be an even stronger response using a personalized avatar, because the image is even more strongly self-identified.
With that said, I always like to emphasize the idea that magick is about what we do in the world. What we do in the temple, in ritual, is preparation, alignment and configuration of self so that we can better act in the real world. Do the ritual in your real, astral or virtual temple. Then get your ass out into the world and make use of what you’ve done.
Hear, hear. Where can people go to get more info about this event, participate, contact you, etc?
Event page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?sk=messages&ref=mb#!/event.php?eid=159160737432788
It’s a free workshop, but we ask that everyone register in advance, so we know who to expect. We also ask that if you are new to SL, you get in and practice moving around and using the basics before the workshop.
Check out the video, “Phil Farber in Second Life Magick and Virtual Worlds.”