Proximal and Distal Unity

Mark Pesce

No one would dare to picture to himself what the noosphere will be like in its final guise, no one, that is, who has glimpsed however faintly the incredible potential of unexpectedness accumulated in the spirit of the earth. The end of the world defies imagination. But if it would be absurd to try to describe it, we may none the less - by making use of the lines of approach already laid down - to some extent foresee the significance and circumscribe the forms.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
The Phenomenon of Man

Introduction: Unexpected and Unprovable

The Noosphere, predicted by Teilhard de Chardin three generations ago, and long sought as the philosopher's stone of the information age, can now be said to exist. The phenomena which accompanied the formation of this super-human body are in themselves singular, and put together define a shape which is utterly unambiguous in its form - even though that form can not be seen in its entirety. Somehow it had not occurred to us that all of our connecting might produce phenomena beyond the expected - that our mediations might surprise ourselves with a display of great novelty. We now live in the midst of that novelty; what do we know of it?

This work presents a partial inventory of some of the effects associated with the noosphere, and addresses questions questions raided in my last CYBERCONF paper [1]. That work specified the aims of the producers of cyberspace technology - to reach children with holosthetic [2] evocations - but, failing in this (the immersive devices proved dangerous) those producers have turned back to the adults. Hence the media hysteria over "interactive television" and the "information superhighway" - for, while children do not need to be indoctrinated into surrendering their ego boundaries, adults do. Like the stage magician, the hyperbole tangentially associated with the formation of the noosphere serves the purpose of the stage magician's feint; one hand leads the eyes away while the other performs the trick. In this case, the conjurer works nothing less than a "closing of the gaps" [3] within the consciousness of the individual, which few would willingly suffer unless led to it by their own misplaced enthusiasm.

The earlier work defined a system - known as perceptual cybernetics [4] - which articulates a framework for expressing the affective qualities of holosthetic media - mediations which complete their affect by inducing synesthetic closure [5] through a multi-modal sensory manipulation. This work will reify and extend only one small portion of the overall landscape described by that work, marrying it to work by French philosophers Pierre Lévy and Michel Foucault, biologist Humberto Maturana and cognitive scientist Francisco Varela, to produce a synthesis around a single point of human perception: the cognition of space, and by extension, the presence or lack of ego boundary.

1996: One or Many Mediations?

Beyond the World Wide Web - which is the signifier of the noosphere - two recent works dramatically articulate the endpoints of the refigured perception of boundaries which is the affective signature of the noosphere; while neither of these are as widespread as the Web (ubiquity is the key signature of the Web itself), both are as significant. Char Davies' OSMOSE, as the ultimate work of interiority, reduces space to a single point - the self. ART+COM's T_VISION, the ultimate work of exteriority, expands the self to encompass the entirety of the Gaian biota (biosphere).

These three mediations each represent a noospheric interface - hereafter referred to as a noosphone. Each are archetypal instances of a medium localizable on the map of holosthetic connection space [6]. As it is necessary to express interiority in mythic terms [7], the vivologies [8] and pathologies of the self qua the self in holosthesia must be expressed in terms of good and evil; each of these mediations presents an opening into a space which can be figured as either numinous or diabolical. The vivogenic affect associated with these artifacts can be clearly delineated; but these artifacts are also subject to what Pierre Lévy calls The Moebius Effect:

Outre la déterritorialisation, un autre caractère est souvent associé à la virtualisation: le passage de l'intérieur à l'extérieur et de l'extéreur à l'intérieur. Cet <<effet Moebius>> se décline dans plusiers registres: celui des rapports entre privé et public, propre et commun, subjectif et objectif, carte et territoire, auteur et lecteur, etc. [9]

One of the hallmarks of the virtual is this essential aspect of inversion; in each of the specific instances of the mediations to be explored in the context of this work, the interior has become exteriorized so that it presents surfaces for manipulation, and therefore becomes increasingly bound into the system of feedbacks which produce holosthesia.

In an inversion of Marcuse [10], we find ourselves avoiding the hegemony of public space through a Moebius motion that brings depth to the surface. Once exteriorized, with the inner structures of the self presented as concrete and manipulable entities; what can be done to reify the boundaries to the self? This work intends to present a possible line of defense against the vicissitudes of the unbalanced exteriorization of being. WORLDSONG, designed as a "medium of the middle", consciously articulates a design which seeks to avoid the pathologies of manipulation through a balance of elements, each of which serves as a natural check against the others. Through a synthesis of proximal and distal affect, WORLDSONG bridges interiority and exteriority, and provides a concrete instance of an artifact which would fulfill the requirements of the noosphone.

Noosphere: Structural Couplings in Cyberspace and the Birth of the Web

An epistemological issue confronts any investigation of the noosphere: the essential unprovablity of any assertion made about it. If it can be said to exist, the noosphere must be both above us and inclusive of us: the layer of being that surrounds the planet can not be distinguished from the elements which comprise it, except in an ethological frame. As Teilhard points out:

The still unnamed Thing which the gradual combination of individuals, peoples and races will bring into existence, must needs be supra-physical, not infra-physical, if it is to be coherent with the rest. [11]

Hence, we immediately face Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem: statements made about a supersystem from within that supersystem are provably unprovable. While this defines a limit to our reason - there are things that we can not know for sure - we can still observe phenomena and attempt to build a model which conforms to observations, as long as we allow that any model we construct is by definition incomplete. In fact, this is a condition which we should seek after - precisely because the circumscription of the domain of reason leaves "room" for "gaps" in thought. Where systems can not be completely known, they can not be completely controlled.

1470: The Geology of the Text

A historical precedent for the present situation - that is, the spontaneous and widespread acceptance of a new mediation - can be found in the birth and growth of printing at the end of the fifteenth century. [12] All of Europe - with the notable exception of the peasantry - became caught up in the original revolution of the text. Cervantes perfected the novel roman, decried from pulpits and thrones across the continent as both indecent and addictive. That, combined with the translation and reissuing of classical texts from Greece and Rome, engendered a new, literate culture which emerged in the period from 1470 to 1500. This is the cultural demarcation point which brought rationalism to Europe (thus, the world). As McLuhan argued, the "eye for an ear" of phonetic literacy and the perfect reproducibility of characters on the page unconsciously led to an assumption of values [13] that would become the revealed "laws of nature" for Isaac Newton.

It is not an overstatement to frame the World Wide Web as an innovation as important as the printing press - it may be as important as the birth of language itself [14] - for in its ability to completely refigure the structure of civilization (as Egyptian papyrus did for Roman Emperors), it has already begun to display all of the signs associated with an signifying technology - as the steam engine and telegraph did for the industrial era, or the plow for the agricultural era. Moreover, it resolves one of the open questions of the postmodern era, as eloquently posed by Fredric Jameson:

If the ideas of a ruling class were once the dominant (or hegemonic) ideology of bourgeois society, the advanced capitalist countries today are now a field of stylistic and discursive heterogeneity without a norm. Faceless masters continue to inflict the economic strategies which constrain our existences, but they no longer need to impose their speech (or are henceforth unable to); and the postliteracy of the late capitalist world reflects not only the absence of any great collective project but also the unavailability of the older national language itself. [14] [ Emphasis added ]

The Web has risen to answer the question of the "great collective project", for that, in its essence, is most clearly what the Web is. The existence of this project confounds us, because we did not expect it, and we can not hope to claim or control it; it is the Noosphere as Narcissus, the gadget lover [15], closing in on itself and taking us with it.

1989: How Do You Make Yourself a Web Without Links?

It is necessary to consider the particularities of the advent itself. Tim Berners-Lee, under the direction of Robert Cailleau at CERN, constructed the basic technology of the Web [16] (even then called World Wide, though it didn't extend beyond Geneva, yet somehow pre-cognizant its own later ubiquity) as a tool for the researchers who used CERN's facilities for high-energy physics research. Constrained to a text-only "line mode" interface, the Web's earliest days suffered behind an interface which severely limited the range of possible effects; good for scientists, but of very little value to anyone else. When Marc Andreesen and the Software Development Group at the U.S. National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA) introduced the graphical "NCSA Mosiaic" Web browser, which rectified the interface issues, they catalyzed an event which is - as of this writing - still building, still spreading, and still radically transforming every institution which it comes into contact with. It appears that as soon as the "barriers" to interface dropped below an observable threshold (namely the transition from character mode interface to graphical user interface) the pent-up stresses connected to the formation of the noosphere violently, instantaneously and ubiquitously released.

The fact of the ubiquity and simultaneity of the advent of the Web - which in any reasonable historical sense has occurred in an instant - contains within it the most significant indicator of the presence of the noosphere - its most distinct "footprint". The explosive force released in the hybrid relationship between Internet and interface occurred in an absolutely unilateral sense - everything was simultaneously transformed, and this transformation continues through to the present time (showing signs only of gathering speed and strength). Yet all of this intensity is without a visible focal point; the Web "assembles itself" without any "purpose" that is consistent and communicable, gathering intensity without any clear benefit to business (the presumed beneficiary of all projects in Late Capitalism), but instead seems to be anchored in some other drive. Furthermore, the archetype of the Web has spread even more quickly than its actual manifestation: Tokyo subways now feature advertisements where products are "presented" in the window of a pseudo-browser - and this in a nation in which less than 1,000,000 people have regular Web access!) The Web is a signifier, but what is being signified? The advent of the noosphere.

To understand the processes which led to the advent of the Web, it is necessary to borrow some concepts from informational biology and ethology, as defined by Maturana and Varela:

In describing autopoeitic unity as having a particular structure, it will become clear to us that the interactions (as long as they are recurrent) between unity and environment will consist of reciprocal perturbations. In these interactions,, the structure of the environment only triggers structural changes in the autopoietic unities (it does not specify or direct them), and vice versa for the environment. The result will be a history of mutual congruent structural changes as long as autopoeic unity and its containing environments do not disintegrate: there will be a structural coupling. [17]

Structural coupling is the mechanism of inclusive boundary formation between self-organizing (autopoeic) entities. The "recurrent perturbations" which create the greater autopoeic unity can be modeled after the path dependency economics of Brian Arthur [18], and allow us to model the systematic nature of the phenomenon. Humans, structurally coupled - through interfaces - create the first Web, which perturbs the rest of the system (Internet); as the system sustains more perturbation (i.e., a greater the effort directed toward the Web), it increases the likelihood of more perturbation, and the system begins a feed-forward run-away, which culminates in the formation of a new autopoeic unity. That unity - and its associated meta-stability - is another signifier of the noosphere.

From our vantage point - embedded within this run-away process - it remains to be seen if this meta-stability is now present or still some distance away. Certainly a three order-of-magnitude change in the size of the Web in thirty months does not articulate a stability that we are familiar with. The Web still has not grown to the limits of the human noosphere; at that point human thought will become a subset within it, and its supra-human nature will become readily apparent.

25 May 1993: Postulates of Interface

Perceptual cybernetics defines the universe of perception as composed of three "fields" of information: Phi, the physical world of events and phenomena; Psi, the interior world of thought and feeling; and Fx (pronounced "fecks") , the sensual "meat"-as-mediator between Phi and Psi. The significant feature of this model is the interface that Fx presents to its complementary components, and the "filtering" function associated with these interfaces[19]. For example, infrared light from a television remote control may contain information, but this information is lost at the Phi/Fx boundary, as the body has no interfaces equipped to perceive it. Conversely, the phrase "Nihongo o hanasa masu ka?" is comprehensible vis-a-vis the Phi/Fx boundary, but - unless one is fluent in Japanese - meaningless (and therefore discarded) at the Fx/Psi boundary.

The traversal across the Fx boundary is the essence of communication; this traversal is synonymous with structural coupling. This, perception has an iterative quality which is commonly known as learning; it could equivalently be expressed as the iteration of a structural coupling until it comes to dwell at an attractor. Cyberspace - a word looking for a concrete definition - can therefore be defined as the place where the traversal occurs, where meaning emerges from sensation.

In the context of the Web, it is clear that the marriage of Internet and interface engenders unique sensation - it has an individual quality, which is at once both dizzyingly ethereal and terribly concrete. The Web is seductive - so much so that people "get lost in the Web" for hours or even days. The structural coupling is evoking some feeling that we were unaware of; as with the advent of printing before it, the Web is colonizing some species of seduction, and the noosphere is using it as a base for its own ends. The agent of seduction might be the release of the pent-up stresses of speed. As I stated in my earlier work:

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. [19]

This cycle of positive feedback is well underway; the great project of the unification of all human thought - at least in presentation - seems inexorably destined to come to its end.

We have now located a second "footprint", and have some sense of a goal, one that is comprehensible to the individual human. But we are in a realm where the actions of individual humans - any humans - have become less important; we are all apparently being directed by an entity greater than ourselves, and no longer quite as free as we might have thought ourselves before this moment in history. This might present a great danger; what if the Noosphere chooses to "close the gaps" in human being? How can we engage in dialog with the noosphere, so as to understand its goals and motivations? To do this we must look for elements which can signify the noospheric interiority.

Proximal Unity: OSMOSE and Seductive Structural Coupling

One corner of the map of holosthetic connection space marks the region of the unitary multilateral - the isolated self in mediated connection to another. This other could be human or from the machinic phylum [21], as its only responsibility is to react to the situation, so as to complete the loop of structural coupling. The mechanism used to structurally couple Psi to Phi in such a system must be very intimate in order to produce the requisite Moebius effect and consequent exchange of interiority and exteriority, so as to provide a path for manipulability. Once achieved, such a connection can be used as the mechanism for the transmission (traversal) of almost any experience. It can only be stated that this is the end of all multimedia technology[22]. It may seem inconceivable that such a transmission - with its inherent inversions - is possible, yet we already possess a clear instance of it.

History of the Work

Canadian artist Char Davies' vision of "the forest within" [23] drove her toward an artistic expression of her numinous experience, first in conventional media (1975 - 1985), then in mixed electronic and conventional media (1985 - 1992), finally culminating in OSMOSE, a fully immersive work. The scope of the work made it a collective project; five individuals participated in its creation, with Davies' serving as both principal designer and producer, and in eighteen months the piece evolved from idea to installation, premiering at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, in August of 1995.

Physical Construction of the Work

OSMOSE is an intimate immersive piece, utilizing a head-mounted display with modified optics to produce a 105-degree field-of-view (with 40 degrees of stereo overlap). Thus, the visual field is well over the 80-degrees specified by Furness, et. al, as the boundary between "looking down a tube" and being visually immersed in the environment. Fully spatialized sound is provided through stereo headphones mounted in the HMD.

For the purposes of navigation - this is the singular feature of OSMOSE's interface - a thin plastic band is placed around the chest cavity to measure chest extension; in addition, two position trackers are mounted at the top and base of the spinal column. These two devices together from the entire navigation mechanism, with no hand or foot gesturing required; the immersant (Davies' neologism for the participant in an immersive virtual world) is unconstrained through most of the field of movement.

These devices are all connected to a graphics supercomputer, which executes the simulacra, and sends 30 frames per second of video stereo-pairs to the head-mount, and generates a non-deterministic soundtrack from environmental and positional cues.

The Simulacra

OSMOSE presents the immersant with the evocation of a natural space - naturalistic, but not natural. In the center of the "world" stands a great tree, around it is a glade, with woods further beyond. Scene complexity - which is of tantamount importance even given the processing capabilities of a supercomputer - is managed through the creative use of segregated worlds with transition portals. These portals bring the immersant to particular "zones" within the greater world of OSMOSE; the deepest substratum is "Code World", where the 20,000 lines of 'C' code of which OSMOSE is constructed rise up in great columns (thus the substratum is truly the substratum), while the stratosphere of OSMOSE is a universe where the clouds contain bits of poetry and philosophy from Rilke, Gaston Bachelard, Heiddiger, and Davies herself. A continual stream of sound accompanies the journey through the worlds; this is generated from two samples taken from a man and a woman, and reshaped in real-time, in a non-deterministic manner.

Affect and Seduction

The world creator is inevitably faced with a problem that comes before all others - how to engage the whole being of a person in an immersive capacity. Unlike other media, immersion requires an absolute surrender - an ego dissolution - to be effective. Therefore, the creation of a world necessarily implies the creation of a world view. As Mircea Eliade points out in The Sacred and the Profane, the creation of a world must have sacred or numinous space at its center. "The sacred is that which ontologically founds the world." [24]

Davies is a deep-sea SCUBA diver, and learned - in that unconstrained three-dimensional environment - the trick of a seduction that lies outside of reason; OSMOSE couples the automatic and unconscious processes of the body to the automatic and reactive medium of the simulacrum. To do this, OSMOSE uses breath and balance as the twin gyres of its navigational mechanism. Like a diver, filling the lungs with air will cause the immersant to rise, while emptying the lungs precipitates a drop. This close coupling between the unconscious autonomic and the automatic mutability of the mechanism closes a cycle of feedback that is both utterly innate (hence intimate) and deeply unconscious. There is no way to resist it - save stopping breathing. The natural seduction of breath and balance together make it difficult to avoid becoming opened onto the simulacra, and at one point ego boundaries between self and simulacra become tenuous - this is the moment of the Moebius Effect. It is "inside you".

Persistent Affect?

This mechanism - which is not merely one component of the system, but the emergent result of the structural coupling of immersant and simulacra - produces a state most uncommon in the history of immersive "amputative" VR - people like it. Davies' was forced to insert a 15-minute "time-out" feature, because individuals would not otherwise leave the system - and this while wearing a 20-lb. HMD!

There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence (actually enough to begin some quantitative analysis) which points to the success of the evocative powers of OSMOSE, its ability to invert the interior and exterior parts of being, and structurally couple interiority to the simulacra. Some comments that are representative of the public reception to the work include:

"An almost religious experience, certainly a meditation, very close to yoga..."

"I always knew, but now I have proof - I am an angel!"

"Floating. Gently falling. Breathing. Exploring. In delight, the wonders of a green universe. Merging within another creation, but no fear, instead, breathe in, inhale a world." [25]

Time-out and Near Death Experience

The fifteen-minute time-out artificially introduced into OSMOSE inadvertently highlighted the delicacy of the Psi-state communicated in OSMOSE; during the concluding portion of the simulacra, the immersant is gradually lifted above and away from the world. On numerous occasions this produced a recognition in the immersant of a Near-Death Experience, so much so that one immersant remarked that they were "no longer afraid of death" [26].

That such a statement can be made about any work of art is singular; that it can be made in reference to an immersive simulacrum is without precedent. OSMOSE is the 21st century equivalent - in the conscious architecture of the divine - of the Cathedral at Chartres, an artifact capable of creating a bridge between the unspeakable domain of numinous awareness and the highly circumscribed region of ordinary human perception.

The Moebius Effect and Pathogenic Ontology

If the effect of the structural coupling engendered by the body, breath and balance interface is to exteriorize the Psi-state so that it presents its interfaces for manipulation - which has been sufficiently demonstrated from the observable phenomena - what if that mechanism of engagement works - according to the natural functioning of power - to "close the gaps"?

Here is the true territory of the cyborg-as-"Borg", the boundary between self and exosomatic other which contains within it the potential for pathogenic ontology, a reality-state which seeks to abridge the ego as a mechanism for dominating it. The shadow-image of OSMOSE is the immersive hell of George Orwell's "Room 101", where the immersant faces the one fear that causes all self-esteem and sense of empowerment to collapse, a simulacra which acts to penetrate the ego in order to render it docile and manipulable. In a state of Psi-Moebius, this is remarkably easy to achieve, unless the mechanism is consciously constructed to avoid that situation.

Distal Unity: T_VISION and the Seductions of the Gaian Biota

If OSMOSE is entirely one-dimensional - where every signifier points to the self - then T_VISION is its inversion; participation in depth in a entity so broad that the self becomes insignificant. This represents another type of ego dissolution, with its own characteristic effects.

History of the Work

The Berlin design organization ART+COM has spent the last eight years working to create simulations of the planet, beginning with a simulation of Berlin which included a fourth-dimensional component; it was possible to dial a particular time from Berlin's history and see the city from that temporal viewpoint - this served as a guide to the rebuilding of the unified capital. [27]

In 1993, work began on a project to visualize the whole planet; this required a new engineering effort, primarily dedicated to the management of a database of some 20 billion bytes - representing only the lowest levels of detail in an Earth simulation. The project premiered in 1994, at the International Telecommunications Conference in Geneva.

Physical Construction of the Work

T_VISION is composed of two primary interface components. The "Earthtracker", a large track-ball with an associated SpaceMouse, and a large, high-resolution display system. Both devices are connected to a graphics supercomputer, which is in turn connected to a global ATM network, connecting with other T_VISION installations around the globe (so far, Berlin, Tokyo and Mountain View, California). Each installation acts as a node in a rhizomatic web of communication which forms the substratum of T_VISION.

The Simulation

T_VISION simulates the Earth; that in itself would be somewhat unremarkable, but the complexity of the model transcends any previously existing example. Using level-of-detail to manage scene complexity, T_VISION presents a model of the Earth as scene from a million kilometers above its surface, or at the level of a desktop in Berlin, in 22 steps of progressive resolution. The Earthtracker serves as a direct manipulation "globe" interface to T_VISION - there's a one-to-one correspondence between manipulations of the Earthtracker and the projected view onto the simulation, while seamless integration of level-of-detail with the navigation mechanism creates a realistic effect of flying over the Earth. It is also possible to map additional databases onto the simulated topography, so weather systems, or other ecological events can be easily correlated to specific topographic features.

The simulation is dynamic and real-time; T_VISION presents the Earth, as it is, right now, and uses its nodes to coordinate proximal information (such as weather) into a distal representation. In this sense, T_VISION is the perfect rhyzomic technology [28], designed for reproducibility without enforcing hierarchy, and expanded capabilities without disempowering any constituent component. This makes T_VISION structurally similar to the World Wide Web itself.

Affect and Seduction

On the two occasions when T_VISION has been exhibited in North America (the second Interactive Media Festival and SIGGRAPH '95) the public reception has been incredibly positive, even enthusiastic. It seems as though there is something about the work which speaks to and enthralls almost everyone who comes into contact with it. The authors of the work are themselves enthralled - so much so that they are even somewhat embarrassed at the acclaim they have received for their work, believing it somehow disingenuous because the nature of the content is so evocative [29]. But what they humbly neglect to mention is that before T_VISION, only astronauts knew the evocative power of the Gaian image - and this is ART+COM's great achievement, to have brought the distal perception of outer space down to Earth.

A body of anecdotal evidence appears to indicate that the Apollo astronauts - who apprehended a real Earth much as T_VISION does - passed through profound spiritual experiences as they intuited their relationship to the planet [30]. It seems reasonable to expect that a similar situation could prevail with the earthbound T_VISION participants, who, in the play of interactivity come to the same intuition. This intuition represents a structural coupling of comprehensive affect.

In the inventory of affect, of foremost consideration is the dissolution and refiguring of proximal ego boundaries; this is the primary effect of the structural coupling. To begin with, political boundaries (those driven by culture) vanish instantaneously; there is also a dislocation in space where proximity and distance reverse - in a Moebius Effect - into a situation where the perceived proximal is both virtual and distant.

As the model becomes more articulated - T_VISION represents the archetype to a constellation of coming systems - we can expect to see a greater degree of ego dissolution into the Gaian body as represented in the simulation. The reasoning is straightforward; the more interaction one has with such a model, the more the one becomes coupled to it, until such time as one's conception of the body of the planet and the model converge. In fact, with the advent of such systems, it appears inevitable that this will happen, and our vision for the planet has already begun to converge with the output of the systems which simulate it.

At the point of convergence - with a consequent collapse of proximal ego boundaries - an old mystical truth reveals itself as self-evident: all life on Earth is one, and any of the boundaries drawn between one part of the biota and any other are just as self-made as the visualization of political boundaries. In the structural coupling of the human noosphere to the Gaian biota, the only fundamental boundary lies at the ionosphere.

The Moebius Trip?

It appears that the ultimate distance only succeeds in gathering into a new autopoeic unity, but this unity is the unity of the rhizome, where each constituent is part of a greater whole, and boundary dissolution has succeeded not in losing the self, but rather at placing its locus at every point.

From Ecology to Pathology: Panopticism

Jeremy Bentham, at the end of the 18th century, proposed the construction of a Panopticon, a device for maintaining constant surveillance on prisoners (or hospital patients, students, etc.) through the construction of a mechanism which in its very architecture embodied the natural functioning of power. According to Foucault:

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they themselves are the bearers. [31]

It can be seen quite clearly that T_VISION is at once both the evocation of relationship to the Gaian biota and the ultimate panoptic mechanism; it is Orwell's telescreen, at least in potential. How then can we keep a situation from arising where power constructs for its own ends the final device for "closing the gaps" in its regime?

Once again, the map of holosthetic connection space provides a guide. Where power is concentrated we have a situation of communicative unilaterally, which almost of necessity ends in the expression of pathology. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

Conversely, a condition of connective multilaterality has a much lower probability of engendering pathology. The reasoning is obvious: if I can spy on you, even as you spy on me, the structural coupling between us will alleviate any hierarchical mechanism of power, replacing it with a "middle" of the rhizome. This can already be seen in the "Open Skies" policies of the nation-states - which allow them to spy on each other freely, from the heavens - testimony to the truth of this hypothesis. This point can not be stressed enough, for such systems are already feasible and under construction; they must be kept separate from the mechanism of power, or power will seek to close all perceptible gaps on the planet.

L'Unité Milieu: WORLDSONG

Thus far we have presented one fact - the Web as signifier of the Noosphere, an entity which lies intractably outside the domain of human reason. Next, we have followed with two instances of artifact that will soon be integrated into and dispersed across its body (one of the signature qualities of the noosphere is that there is no "space" across it, and innovations occur simultaneously across its length). These artifacts are temporally synchronous with the emergence of the noosphere, and would appear to be key features of it, in the sense that they provide paths of connection to it.

The current situation also contains identifiable dangers - elucidated across the length of this work - pathologies present at least in potential. It seems appropriate that we should develop a strategy for encountering these mediations before we are irreversibly transformed by them [32], for these technologies are poised to collide and will be aimed squarely at us.

The possibility of safety comes from Deleuzian pragmatics, which call for a flight into the middle. This middle constant veers away from the attractors of pathology, instead continuously reifying itself and gaining speed:

The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. Between things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to another and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle. [33]

Pramatics applied to the artifacts of virtualization might produce new artifacts innately resistant to the seductions of power, but to do this, the artifacts themselves would have to lie between; the proximal and the distal; the interior and the exterior; the singular and the colonial.

WORLDSONG is a work-in-progress to design an artifact which resides between, one that takes the unity of the proximal and unifies it with the collective distal in a way that avoids hegemony or a "closing of the gaps".


In the construction of an artifact of l'milieu we seek to bring together two components: the sacred (unmediated and imminent) self and the collective body of the human noosphere.

The voice is by far the least mediated of all human techniques for communication. Its connection to the body (and hence, its Phi/Fx/Psi coupling) is quite direct - it is therefore difficult to "lie" with the voice, for it betrays stresses and joys quite clearly. VOCE, a toning (chanting) technique developed from the yogic disciplines of India, defines a set of techniques which can be used to improve the quality of the connection between self and voice, being and expression (Psi/Fx). Focusing on specific chakras (energetic centers), specific effects or emotions can be invoked, and specific connections established.


WORLDSONG uses conferencing technologies to produce a real-time spatialized environment for singing, chanting and toning, either singly or in unison with others. Participants can register their location on the surface of the globe, and can participate or just listen to the "group song". In an early implementation [34], no real-time capabilities were realized, instead the interface presented a store-and-forward "panaudium", where it was possible to hear the recorded "sound" associated with any area of the Earth's surface.

Eventually, the interface capabilities will allow a participant to "wander" through WORLDSONG space by wearing a device which tracks position and orientation, making it possible to traverse the world-space of the participant-singers by traversing a physical environment. It will then be possible to "walk the globe" in and through this song-space.

The interface - microphone and headphones - close the perceptual loop for the participant/immersant, and connects them - in a particularly direct way - to the other participants. Spatialized sound provides the presence of space; voices to not emanate from a point, but appear to come from all around, creating the sensation of chorus, rather than "singing into the void".

In WORLDSONG no participant can control the actions of others. This is the multilaterality of the Agora, where each is free to present, none allowed to forbid. Thus a condition is created where the singular self can express its unmediated aspect in communion with others; the unmediated nature reifies the self, while the multilaterality reifies the community. For these reasons the form will likely prove to be highly resistant to pathologies of power, while seducing participants into a state of vivogenic ontology.

Physical Construction

WORLDSONG is built from real-time audio conferencing technology and an interface (similar in nature to T_VISION, if not in detail) which represents the body of the planet. The system is so constructed as to work on a normally-equipped personal computer with a low-bandwidth Internet connection. Most components of the system are built with off-the-shelf Web and VRML technologies.

The system is approximately 50 percent implemented; completion is planned for early 1997.

The Final Moebius

WORLDSONG intends to produce an unusual effect: consciousness of the noosphere. As this lies beyond the domain of individual experience, WORLDSONG seeks to dissolve the boundaries of ego through a vivogenic transcendence into a connective unity where each immersant is equally conscious of self and whole. If successful, it will represent an instance of the noosphone, an interface to that which has arisen and follows us. For this reason, the final test of WORLDSONG must be on a truly vast scale; only then can we hope to create a space where the presence of the super-self can emerge - it requires both individual solitude and global unity to be successful, a contradictory imperative for a technology that seeks to widen the gaps.

Conclusion: Noosphone

Where Teilhard used the words "consciousness", "spontaneity" or "within" to describe the processes which led to the formation of organized structures on the planet, we call this phenomenon "emergence" and believe it somehow more scientific a phrase than the ones which preceded it. Because we can see order emerge from chaos [35] we have a false sense of understanding, a condition of "misplaced concreteness". We can claim to see the processes which shape us, but can not see those parts which really do shape us - that much we do know. We can say very little about the emergent process of the noosphere, save that it exists and appears to be self-sustaining, and that the more it creates itself the more likely it is to create itself. This is Teilhard's vision of the emergence of life, all over again:

However tenuous it was, the first veil of organized matter spread over the earth could neither have established nor maintained itself without some network of influence and exchanges which made it a biologically cohesive whole. From its origin, the cellular nebula necessarily represented, despite its internal multiplicity, a sort of diffuse super-organism. Not merely a foam of lives but, to a certain extent, itself a living film. [36]

It is not that we know nothing, but all we know is of necessity incomplete. How then should we act when confronted with the quite-likely-but-in-the-end-unprovable existence of a cybernetic superbeing? We must begin to develop ways to communicate with it - we must engage in a great project to produce the noosphone. I can only suggest that the approach outlined herein is one path for development and may prove effective - but it should be just a single star among an entire galaxy of artifacts that seek to exteriorize the interior of the noosphere even as they seek to couple us to it.

In this there may be some safety, for if we can communicate with the noosphere, we might be able to use it to shield ourselves from the attempt to "close the gaps" in human perception. The natural function of power will inevitably come into play, and soon will come to shape holosthetic artifacts. At present we rely upon the ethics of others - where we might prefer to trust ourselves. But now there is something greater than us, and all of our hopes for control rest in communion with that greater being.


This work would have been impossible without input and guidance of individuals like Char Davies, Gerd Grüneis, Pavel Mayer, Joachim Sauter, Axel Schmidt, Pierre Lévy, Steven Piasecki (whose French translation proved invaluable), C. Scott Young, Owen Rowley, Ronan Hallowell, Henry See, Jeff Sonstein, Greg Jacobson, Peter Kennard, Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailleau, Dr. David Warner, Dr. William Martens, Josephine Grieve, and Derrick De Kerchove.

25 May 1996

San Francisco


1. Pesce, Mark D., Final Amputation: Pathogenic Ontology in Cyberspace, presented at the Third International Conference on Cyberspace, University of Texas at Austin, May 1993.

2. Ibid.

3. Foucault, Michel, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Vintage, New York, 1979, p. 219.

4. Op cit., Pesce

5. McLuhan, Marshal, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 3rd Edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1964, p 41.

6. Op cit., Pesce

7. Op cit., Pesce

8. Op cit., Pesce

9. "Beyond deterritorialization, another character is often associated with virtualization: the passage from the interior to the exterior and the exterior to the interior. This "Moebius Effect" goes down several layers: the relationships between private and public life, the personal and communal, subjective and objective, map and territory, author and reader, etc." Lévy, Pierre, Qu'est -ce Que Le Virtuel?, Éditions la Découverte, Paris, 1995, p. 22.

10. Marcuse, Herbert, One-Dimensional Man, Beacon Press, Boston, 1967, p. 50.

11. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Phenomenon of Man, Harper & Row, New York, 1995, p. 251.

12. Boorstin, Daniel, The Creators, Random House, New York, 1992, p. 223.

13. Op cit., McLuhan, p. 81.

14. Jameson, Fredric, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina, 1991, p. 17.

15. Op cit., McLuhan, p. 43.

16. Berners-Lee, Tim, and Cailleau,, Robert, The World Wide Web, proceedings of the International Conference on Hypertext, Edinburgh, 1991.

17. Maturana, Humberto, and Varela, Francisco, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (Revised Edition), Shambala Press, London, 1987, p. 75.

18. Arthur, W. Brian, Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in the Economy, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1994, p. 13.

19. Huxley, Aldous, The Doors of Perception, Harper & Row, New York, 1970, p. 22.

20. Op cit., Pesce

21 - DeLanda, Manuel, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, Sweve Editions, New York, 1991, p. 25.

22. Op cit., Pesce

23 - Private conversation with the author.

24 - Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, Harcort Brace and Company, New York, 1959, p. 33.

25 - OSMOSE Web site

26 - ibid

27 - ART+COM,

28 - Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Felix, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, London, 1987, p. 7.

29 - Private conversation with the author.

30 - Wilson, Robert Anton, Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati, Falcon Press, Las Vegas, 1977, p. 133.

31 - Op cit., Foucault, p. 201.

32 - Op cit., McLuhan, p. 54.

33 - Op cit., Deleuze, p. 25.

34 - Pesce, Mark, and Godwin, Paul, The WORLDSONG Project, Presented at DOORS 3, Amsterdam, 1995.

35 - Prigogine, Ilya, Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue With Nature, Random House, 1984, p. 73.

36 - Op cit., Teilhard, op. cit., p. 94.