The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality

Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace

My approach to cyberspace passes first through the ancient idealism of Plato and moves onward through the modern metaphysics of Leibniz. By connecting with intellectual precedents and prototypes, we can enrich our self-understanding and make cyberspace function as a more useful metaphysical laboratory.

For Gibson, cyber entities appear under the sign of Eros. The fictional characters of Neuromancer experience the computer matrix–cyberspace–as a place of rapture and erotic intensity, of powerful desire and even self-submission. In the matrix, things attain a supervivid hyper-reality. Ordinary experience seems dull and unreal by comparison. Case, the data wizard of Neuromancer, awakens to an obsessive Eros that drives him back again and again to the information network:

A year [in Japan] and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly…. [S]till he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void…. [H]e was no [longer] console man, no cyberspace cowboy…. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, . . . trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.[1]

The sixteenth-century Spanish mystics John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila used a similar point of reference. Seeking words to connote the taste of spiritual divinity, they reached for the language of sexual ecstasy. They wrote of the breathless union of meditation in terms of the ecstatic blackout of consciousness, the llama de amor viva piercing the interior center of the soul like a white-hot arrow, the cauterio suave searing through the dreams of the dark night of the soul.

From The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, by Michael Heim, Oxford University Press

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