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Consciousness in Relation to New Media, Games, Character Invention
Where does one start the quest to create newly invented fictional digital/new media characters and stories that will attract a viable public? Established fiction has seen the depths and lows of humanity pass by and today’s writers find it mighty difficult to compete in terms of originality. But for a new media story or a character to be successful, the writer needs to meet another challenge; he has to think up truly adaptable story structures, taking into account not only his own perception of an evolving real world, but also rapidly changing technological parameters. Storylines that shine with meaning that is as interesting as it is intended ought to be a sought after commodity, because they are a scarce commodity. But they are not.
Today, fiction and human consciousness are colliding with settings that the Surrealists could only dream about when they designated the real as ‘absurdly real’. Fiction that is emerging now, in spite of all the technical possibilities however, doesn’t meet a world that is necessarily all that accommodating.
Andre Breton wrote in the Surrealist Manifesto that he ‘believed in the future transmutation of those two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, of surreality, so to speak. I am looking forward to its consummation, certain that I shall never share in it, but death would matter little to me could I but taste the joy it will yield ultimately.’ We live the Surrealist dream, but private thoughts are still measured in terms of highly rational parameters. And even though the structures in which we establish hypotheses for collective consciousness as a means of expressing ourselves, either meaningful or less meaningful, tend to be built on logical assumptions Whether we grasp these is often the question. But humanity is hell bent on simply furthering its progress all the time, and some people believe that this very drive is something that indicates meaning.
Interest in human affairs is closely linked to human consciousness. However broad the term ‘human consciousness’ might come across as, it’s also the very mechanism that manifests itself in incredibly narrow minded thoughts. Think of our obsession with celebrities, with finding out the latest gossip about the boss. Our interest with our own consciousness is sourced by similar curiosity. Take for instance your interest in stories surrounding the actual circumstances during which the idea for a famous story was conceived. ‘Mary Shelley thought up Frankenstein when she was in a house with a group of people in the middle of nowhere Scotland’, is bound to make ears prick up. We all like finding out intimate details about famous subjects. Incidentally, Shelley wrote her story after thinking it up in elementary form when one winter she found herself indeed stuck in a house with a few friends in the middle of nowhere Scotland. They decided to have a competition making up the scariest story ever. Guess who won. Doesn’t that sidestory make your reading the book next all the more exciting?
There’s is nothing wrong with this obsession. We feel that it is even imperative to test to the limit what processes are involved in writing. Not so much because the writing is going to be all that more interesting (that too) but mainly to explore what the outside triggers really are that influenced the fiction in the first place. When the Surrealists were conducting their automatic writing experiments, they found out that by simply tapping into an outside realm, they connected with each other. Their writings appeared to convey messages that were largely the same!
To have a hint of what’s cooking is way more appetizing than the meal that ultimately hits the table. A miracle happened when these painters were conducting their experiments; this was a bunch of painters revealing to the world writers’ secrets! The subject of writerly inspiration is hugely interesting, especially because it deals with consciousness and outside influence in a unique sense. Something writers often don’t generally own up to. Perhaps this is why it took painters to do the trick. It made us wonder about the impact that real events have on fiction in general.
What are the influences that govern a writer’s ideas, and how do these ideas ultimately take shape on paper? Does it mean anything that a book was written in a particular season? Does the writer’s appetite for a particular type of food have an influence on his writings, even if he never writes about food? The questions sound naive, but that’s not the reason so little research has taken place in this field. Consciousness is something that lends itself way more to the present than to the past, and literary research generally doesn’t focus on real time events. Modern technology has advanced so much that perhaps the study of actual writing might reveal what’s going on in this process.
Even though today’s changes have been foreseen since decades -the Surrealists were predicting the emergence of virtual worlds with eery precision- nothing less than the actual practical emergence of technologies and new media formats apparently only spurs people’s efforts to theorize. The phrase ‘narrative portability’ is among the first workable new terms of indicating a general definition and practical applications (written literature, oral conversation, drama, film, painting, dance and mime, etc). It is employed by Marie Laure Ryan, an independent scholar specializing in narrative theory and new media etc.
Theorists’ ‘inventory accounting’ confirms most of the ideas that Roland Barthes published in the last Century. Marie Laure Ryan writes in an article that is published in the forthcoming Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative that narratology itself is considered ‘a project that transcends disciplines and media’. It has been this way since the term started to circulate in academic circles, she asserts.
Herbert Marcuse also largely covered this territory, indicating that it is imperative to show that true consciousness comprises of transcendence, even though it might not immediately make sense in the modern technology governed world based on a totalitarian assumption that there is no rationale for this kind of transcendence.
The idea of absolute rationality has worn many masks throughout the ages, and Marcuse believes that technological transmutation is its latest (if not last) mask, which has pushed logic as a means of understanding into a dominant determining process by merging theory and practice into one. “It is new because it is rational to an unprecedented degree”, he says, adding that the crux of this business is simply the elimination of history. Marcuse and his followers warn against merging content with medium, saying the language that is involved to describe processes highlights that believing that one dimension (rational textual independence) really does not link into a higher, transcendent reality, leads to a language that is strung together as a series of empty commands (a leads to b, leads to c, leads to d).
Could this explain the miserable state of hyperfiction? This field is simply void of a critical mass of genius. A few books made it to the level of literature but despite frantic activity in self-publication, hyperfiction is generally regarded as a backwater. Readers prefer to read real books rather than text on a screen, despite the fact that the internet took off on the idea that you can link texts.
Casting some light on the issue, the scholar Michael Chaoili, warns against mixing critical theory with technology. In an article entitled “How Interactive Can Fiction Be?” Chaoili disagrees strongly with people that believe that hypertext creates a literal embodiment of concepts found in literary theory. One should not take a theoretical short circuit and take the literal for the metaphorical, Chaoili asserts. He says that the game industry is often considered totally off the mark in assuming that text and narrative simply are a part of a game’s setting. He believes that this is impossible. Somehow a reader needs to still be fed lines that make sense in the old fashioned way – stories are still very much stories. They are clearly conceived in an author’s mind, rather than part of a mishmash of ideas or a background or setting. Chaoili says true communication does not simply occur ‘by electrify[ing] the signifier’. Instead there is a discontinuity in the operation of dissemination the moment it is turned into a materially concrete form.
Marie Laure Ryan outlines the field from the assumption that the message transmitted should not be regarded as transformed by its technological format, but, rather, as supported by it. “What counts as a medium for the narrative scholar is a type of material support for texts that truly makes a difference as to what kind of narrative content can be evoked (semantics, or story), how these contents are presented (syntax, or discourse), and how they are experienced (pragmatics)”, says Ryan.
She quotes three forms of core stories, from lesser to more involved with their media; for instance a print novel composed on a word processor is hardly influenced by its format. A movie that makes use of digitally composed special effects but is projected on a standard cinema screen is somewhat more exploitative of the medium. A game is a fully developed way of a message exploiting its medium so much that it’s hardly different from it. You might wonder if a story (i.e. a message) isn’t simply being butchered when its format is all imposing, but then play a really good game and you’ll rethink your theory. Exploiting the media is an art.
The concept of what Ryan calls ‘mediality’, a word that has yet to make the dictionary, has become a relational, rather than an absolute property, which warrants comparing across the board. The Surrealists were onto this long before it actually transpired. Louis Aragon wrote in his Une Vague de Reves in 1924 that “it should be understood that the real is a relation like any other; the essence of things is by no means linked to their reality, there are other relations beside reality, which the mind is capable of grasping, and which also are primary like chance, illusion, the fantastic, the dream. These various groups are united and brought into harmony in one single order, Surreality.”
Human consciousness, because it is so ungraspable has since the onset of science always been associated with processes deeply within, linked to processes far out. Perhaps, in this light the time is ripe for us to say that the media are OUR message, rather than THE message. And that all future human progress depends on our ideas of what exactly it means to be human. That to understand what it means to be human equates to the fastest progress.
There is hardly any better example of the implications of taking humans seriously, than the quest of scientists for knowledge about human consciousness. One Bristol scholar, David Graham Cook, underscores this in an article about the poet Rilke, published in the Scientific and Medical Network Review. “Of course it is the case that the effort to describe the physical world has resulted in mind entering modern physics, albeit in an unforeseen way, namely at the limit of understanding”. He draws an analogy between human consciousness and quantum theory, which has seen a difficulty of intuitively grasping the wave particle duality, together with the impossibility of providing a definite description of both the momentum and locatio of subatomic particles. This has raised questions about how and where uncertainty enters the physical picture. “Is it a property of the subatomic realm itself, it is a byproduct of the process of measurement, or is it introduced by the conscious mind of the observing scientist?” Cook wonders.
The physicist Evan Harris Walker establishes a firm connection between consciousness and the unresolved issues in quantum theory. Due to the necessarily ‘nonlocal nature’ of these hidden variables, a quantum state collapse by the observer should be independent of space and time, which in turn could explain psi phenomena such as telepathy, which are outside of space-time separation, Walker asserts. “One of the central features of the controversy has been the argument that characteristics of QM [Quantum Mechanics] imply that an observer’s thoughts can affect an objective apparatus directly, which in turn implies the reality not only of consciousness but of psi phenomena. [..] Such a feature of QM is not a fault, but rather represents a solution to problems that go beyond the usual perview of physics. Thus, I have developed a theory of consciousness and psi phenomena that arises directly from these bizarre findings in QM, findings now supported by specific tests of the principles of objective reality and/or Einstein locality.”
Walker is by far not alone in his assumptions; physics experts are highly interested for a series of reasons in the study of human consciousness. Other academics (aside from literary people) that we have found on active hunts for consciousness have on occasion invented real characters to personify consciousness. These scholars are in the philosophy, cultural studies, biology and physics departments of universities. Most of the character names, bizarrely, come across as pet or cartoon character names. The degree to which some of them have managed to emulate the human mind is simply astounding. Paracelsus, the official inventor of the first homunculus would have been proud.
The person that has made quantum strides into convincing the world at large that the human mind can be replicated in machines rather succinctly is the zoologist/ecologist, Thomas Ray. At the end of the 1990s, he and his associate Karl Sims, finalized creating plenty of nameless characters akin to Pinocchio puppets in a computer program running solely on first hand human derived information. A video film, of the project with which they won third prize in a Berlin festival, is a few minutes long, and it features simulated evolutions of virtual creatures that are really grown from artificial genetic codes describing their morphology and behavior.
In the field of cultural studies, the famous Memetics specialist Daniel Dennet invented a few characters; the robot Shakey and a sceptical character called Otto. He wrote them up in his book ‘Consciousness Explained’. It’s not surprising that a memetics expert conceived of the idea. Incidentally, Dennet is a member of the board for the Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence ( AI ). Anyone that can fool him and his cronies into believing that an automated process is human, wins the prize. So far, no one has really succeeded completely, even though interesting submissions have been made, including jabberwacky, the talking robot.
A fantastic intelligent search engine has been developed by Steven Thaler in the US, a physicist who claims his ‘creative machine’ is really conscious. The patented Creativity Machine® is a form of synthetic intelligence that has generated torrents of new potential words that may be easily pronounced and make contact with the implicit concept of the English word. Rather than genetic engineering, the system works via a parallel computation wherein all pieces of the word are mutually aware of each other as the overall word forms.
The result is that typically incompatible syllabic units repel each other, while compatible units aggregate together into words that make sense. The joint probabilities of different phonetic units closely matches that of accepted words found in English dictionaries. Thaler says that sensible words can be generated via neural networks, and not genetic algorithms should make perfect sense even to those outside the field of AI: “Language is born in biological neural networks of the brain and not within the genetic apparatus.” The machine has also produced nationally advertised products including the Oral B toothbrush, composed 11,000 copyrighted melodies, and generated the formulas of nearly one million new potential chemical systems.
Philosophers are also regularly spotted on the look out for homunculi and zombies. They study this little brain man in connection with zombies and zombie-like states in humans.
Some scientists believe that aside from the confirmation of psi phenomena, other ideas that one can derive from experimental bets on locality are that all human consciousness is actually taking place in something like eight dimensions. Sean-Paul Sirag developed what’s known as a hyper space model of consciousness, working as a physicist on a unified field theory that space time is hyperdimensional, with all except four of them being invisible.
Sirag believes that consciousness can be calculated in a more or less mathematical way. His approach is comparable to a Pythagorean calculation describing the relationship between consciousness and the physical world. Sirag says that ‘unified field theories’ of the physical forces depend fundamentally on mathematical structures. These are called reflection spaces, which are hierarchically organized in such a way that they consist of an infinite spectrum of realities.
People believe this might make sense, because the hierarchical organization of reflection spaces has also been confirmed in other areas including catastrophies, singularities, wave fronts, and contact structures, error correcting codes and sphere packing lattices. Scholars who like Sirag work on unified field theory generally believe that space-time is hyperdimensional, with only four of all of eight dimensions being invisible. How come Sirag claims that algebra, which is founded on the idea of finity is workable in proving something that equates to space? He groups his mathematical entity within in the reflection space hierarchy, which is octahedron.
The reflection space is seven-dimensional. It is described as a superstring-type reflection space. Apparently this confirms a link with the most popular version of unified field theory.
Now, where it becomes interesting for us are the assertions that Sirag makes after all these calculations. He says this seven-dimensional reflection space is a universal consciousness, and that individual consciousnesses tap into this universal consciousness. This implies that the high level of consciousness enjoyed by humans is due to the complex network of connections to the underlying reflection space afforded by a highly evolved brain.
Think gyroscope in numbers, and you roughly get what Sirag says. He attaches to the hierarchy of reflection spaces a hierarchy of realms (or states) of blessed consciousness. Each realm in turn corresponds to a different unified field theory with totally different sets of forces. In fact, the seven-dimensional reflection space is contained in an eight-dimensional reflection space, and contains a six-dimensional reflection space, so that there would be a realm of consciousness directly “above” ordinary reality, and a realm of consciousness directly “below” ordinary reality.
In principle the relationship between the different forces in these different realms could be worked out in detail, so that precise predictions could be made. Walker is active in this field. He has come up with ways of measuring human mental activity. He calculates the rate for “dataprocessing of the brain as a whole at a subconscious level” (S) to be equal to 2.4 x 1012 bits/sec. The data rate for conscious activity (C) is equal to 7.5 x 108 bits/sec, and the channel capacity of the “will” (W) is equal to 6 x 104 bits/sec. Walker’s derivation of the above rates is based on the assumption that electron tunneling across synapses is the basis for the transmission of impulses across synapses and that the large-scale integration of brain activity is also mediated by electron tunneling.
All the work that is carried out is building on from the relativity theory, which basically regards space and time as smudged together, and holds that reality can only be described from a frame of reference which is specified. Another scientist that has a mathematical approach to the whole business of subatomic particles, also comes up with an alternative approach to the more commonly adopted idea of entropy – the tendency of complex systems to fall to chaos- by means of pure mathematics. Dr. Steven Strogatz, a widely recognized and accomplished quantum physicist wrote a book entitled Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. He says that from the subatomic arena of quantum mechanics to the incomprehensibly vast scales of the universe itself, nature has a built-in and persistent compulsion to organize itself into complex systems that surpass the scope and capability of their components. There is a constant combat between entropy and synchrony not only in scientific circles, Strogatz says, but everywhere, at all levels, all around us.
So, even though human consciousness is likely even more of an enigma than relativity theory and its implications, theories are beginning to take off that facilitate the Surrealists’ wildest dreams. The great thing with modern really wild stuff is that is is wild because it is not only breaking conventions but because they are managing to fill positive territory. The questions we asked at the beginning of this article, pertaining the influences that writers are under when writing their prose have hardly been addressed in this background study, but at least we’ve made a start exploring the territory.
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