Introduction to:Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances

A Study of the Affinity Between Artistic Ideologies Based in Virtual
and Previous Immersive Idioms

Joseph Nechvatal

Written in candidacy for a Ph.D. at the Centre for Advanced Inquiry in
the Interactive Arts (CAiiA), University of Wales College, Newport,
Wales, U. K.

Contents of Entire Dissertation

Introduction: Frame and Excess

Section A. The Sensuous Being/Non-Being of Immersive Consciousness:
Philosophical and Technical Framework Material

AI: Theoretical and Linguistic Orientation Based in Extended Awareness
AII: Technological and Philosophical Features of Immersive Viewing
AIII: Allocentric Cognitive Aesthetics and the Subject/Object Merger
AIV: Immersive Metaphysical Awareness: Issues of Vastness and Intimacy
AV: Idealistic Postulates Behind Immersive Contingency
AVI: The Holonsthesiatic Gesamtkunstwerk
AVII: Questions of Absolutes, Post-Modern Evaluations, and Omnijective
AVIII: Scrutinizing the Terms of Total-Immersion
AIX: Social Issues of Media Immersion Verses a Consciousness of Latent
AX: Allocentric Eyes Within the Holographic Summum Bonum
AXI: Further Discussion of Total Models and Immersive Consciousness:
(Sets and (Sub-Sets))

Section B. Centuries of Immersion: Pertinent Art Historical Material

BI: The Cavernous Dialectic: Approaching Underground Ambient Aesthetics
BII: The Necessity of Passage-Fear Receptivity
BIII: The Grotte de Lascaux's Sacred Libido
BIV: The Eros and Thanatos of the Immersive Burial Tomb
BV: The Expansion of Prehistoric Ornamental Sheathing
BVI: The Psychic Thermidor of the Ornamented Body
BVII: The Omphalos, the Pudendum, and the Polymorphosic Labyrinth
BVIII: The Nymphaeum as Immersive Model
BIX: The Anti-Immersivism of the Renaissance Logocentric Apparatus
BX: Extended FOVs: Carpets, Tapestries, Mosaics, Murals
BXI: Theories of Ecstasy and the Baroque Immersive Impulse
BXII: The Rococo Counter-Reformation: Between Opulent Habitat and
BXIII: The Neo-Rococo Immersive Urge of a Dream King
BXIV: The Imprudent Immersive Momentum of the Fin-de-Siècle
BXV: Early Modernism and the Questioning of the Horror Vacui Interior
BXVI: Modernism's Meditation on Violence: Unity by Subtraction
BXVII: Inward Expanded States of Sublimity in the Spatialist Era
BXVIII: The Unframed Space of Jackson Pollock
BXVIX: Picture as Event/Event as Picture
BXX: The Immersive Onement of Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Tony Smith
BXXI: Immersive Action and Flux: Towards Boundlessness in the
BXXII: Cybernetics, Systems Theory, Environmental Art, Op, Pop and the
Kinetic/Dynamic Externalism of the Open Arena
BXXIII: VE°art Displaces Trompe l'Oeil Familiarity: Total Virtual
BXXIV: Disembodied Culture: Issues and Implications for
Distributed-Connected Immersive Environments

Section C. Against Oblivion: an Omni-Spatial Philosophy of Immersion

CI: Towards an Immersive Intelligence: The View From Within
CII: Conclusion and Validation of the Original Hypothesis

Grateful Acknowledgments and Remerciements


Introduction: Frame and Excess


Claude Thibaut: Isn't this radical uncertainty brought about by Virtual
Reality likely to challenge man's vision of himself and the world?
Jean Baudrillard: Certainly, because it is the system of representation
that is at issue. The image that he has of himself is virtualized. One
is no longer in front of the mirror; one is in the screen, which is
entirely different.
-from Philosophy Discussion with Jean Baudrillard: Interview by Claude
Thibaut, March 6, 1996

Space is an ambiguous field where positions change, where viewpoint
becomes scene, seer becomes object, and where depth is the very
reversibility of dimensions that unfold with the movements of the body.
-Allen Weiss, Mirrors of Infinity: The French Formal Garden and 17th
Century Metaphysics

In the realm of the affective imponderable, the image provided by my
nerves takes the form of the highest intellectuality, which I refuse to
strip of its quality of intellectuality.
- Antonin Artaud, Manifesto In Clear Language

To the process of the dissociation of man and body, Virtual Reality
brings a new variation, another way for the body to disappear.
-David Le Breton, The Body in the Modern Imagination

Transparency is the property of the eyeball, projected outward as
luminous space, interpreting quanta of energy in terms of the gelatinous
fibers in the head.
-Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology

The evolution of art is something internal, something philosophical and
is not a visual phenomenon.
-Lucio Fontana, from his last interview

Following, the reader will find an extensive proem to Immersive Ideals /
Critical Distances, a generously illustrated synthetic exploration of
art histories, cultural ideologies and metaphysical ontologies based on
the principal defining characteristic of Virtual Reality (VR):
immersion. The primary explanatory goal of the research conducted here
into immersive ideals will be to enthuse art theory by submitting it to
a complex dialogical cross-examination which hinges on the concept of
immersionability so as to define an historical and current philosophic
sense of immersive visualization. Through this exploration I shall seek
to define the main attributes of what I will designate as immersive
culture and its ideational background and paradigmatic implications as
related to art theory.

The resulting aesthetic theory of immersion will not merely be about VR
however (even though with VR immersion attains a rare acuity) but about
its antecedent philosophical concepts which immersive virtual technology
retrospectively re-emphasizes; a web of concepts which are themselves
associated with other concepts corresponding to other technological and
metaphysical conditions. The criteria for including and exploring the
divers art historical examples and their context which appear in Section
B will be whether they contribute towards flushing out a satisfactory
aesthetic theory of immersive consciousness and advance the formation of
an association of artworks and assemblage of philosophic ideas which can
be designated as indicative of immersive culture. But I will show more
than which art strategies give rise to aesthetic immersive experience
when. I will also give an account, as full as possible, of how and why
these experiences occur. The how question will be initially addressed in
Section A; the section which addresses the inquiry into immersive
technology and psychology along with background philosophical theories
which will be useful in determining the why question. By nonreductively
synthesizing the which, when and how of aesthetic immersionability, an
extensive explanatory theory of aesthetic immersive consciousness and
its possible functions will be suggested in Section C with a number of
theoretical whys.

Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances is then an interdisciplinary study
of Virtual Reality's "key feature", immersion (Heim, 1998, p. 54) and
virtual immersion's foreshadowing sources, ideal topos, and ensuing
influences as applicable to art theory in the formation of a general
philosophic immersive theory of culture. The philosophic rhizomatic
theory of Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Félix Guattari (1930-1992), at
a general level, supports such an interdisciplinarian connectivist
approach towards theorizing immersive experience, as rhizomatic theory
encourages philosophic non-linear and non-restrictive interdisciplinary
thinking and hence reinterpretation, which in this case will proceed
from the point of view (not a point in fact anymore, but an orb) of
virtual immersion. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) A rhizome literally is a
root-like plant stem that forms a large entwined spherical zone of small
roots which criss-cross. In the philosophical writings of Deleuze and
Guattari the term is used as a metaphor for an epistemology (that in
philosophy which is concerned with theories of knowledge) that spreads
in all directions simultaneously. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p. 7) More
specifically, Deleuze and Guattari define the rhizome as that which is
"reducible to neither the One or the multiple. (...) It has neither
beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and
which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n
dimensions having neither subject nor object... ." (Deleuze & Guattari,
1987, p. 21)

Concerning the metaphorical tropes of this exploration, I immediately
want to say that even as I have proposed in the title of my
investigation what looks to be a binary opposition between immersion and
distance, I don't conceive of this opposition as a simple binarism, but
rather it is far more gradient, dialectical, and phenomenological than
that. The emphasis taken here will be on treating the histories of art
and philosophy as multi-layered, heterogeneous, idealistic
constructions; as operative assemblages of connections and frequencies
which once linked elucidate various chimerical disembodied (Mitchell, W.
J., pp. 43-44) relationships between the protoplasmic body-image and
spatial conceptions (what Jean-Louis Boissier sees as the consequence of
"all interactive situations" which he maintains "entail a virtualization
of the body by the production that they imply in the fluctuating data of
digitalization" (Boissier, 1994b, p. 2)) within a generalized ideal
sense of immersionability which manifested in art and philosophy over
time. This approach is consistent with Gilles Deleuze's awareness that
every condition includes a history of its ideal events. (Deleuze, 1990)
However, I will accord top primacy to enthused participatory notions of
artistically mediated awareness within this study and not retreat into
an easy extolling polemical stance concerning the necessity for critical
distance, even as I appreciate the intellectually productive and
cognition-raising abilities of critical distance.

To endeavor an understanding of immersive propensity in relationship to
our effort to discern an extensive pattern of inferred passions which
may together suggest a number of immersive ideals requires, I believe,
the judicious use of the process of Deleuzian/Guattarian nomadic
thinking. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1986) Accordingly, Deleuzian/Guattarian
immersive descriptions would be composed of variously formed segments,
stratas, and lines of flight which involve territorializing as well as
deterritorializing spacio/psychic activities. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983,
p. 2) Even so, I acknowledge in advance that all methods, explanations,
and theories (including the nomadic) inevitably distance consciousness
from its first sense of full and total participation. This
acknowledgment will remain a particularly important point of
consideration in this dissertation as ideas of spacio/psychic critical
distance and non-distanced (non-spatial) disembodied fusion rub up
against each other and influence the psychic space required for
reflection on the thorny concept of aesthetic immersion (which entails a
lack of distance) as the atmospheric gulf between the immersant and the
immersive aesthetic environment is ideally dissolved in VR's exemplary
standard and goal of perfect functionality: total-immersion.

Total-immersion, that state of virtual being which is considered the
holy grail of the VR industry, can be characterized as a total lack of
psychic distance between the immersant's body-image and the immersive
environment (accompanied by a "feeling of plunging into another world").
(Heim, 1998, p. 18) Total-immersion is implied complete presence
(Barfield & Weghorst) within the insinuated space of a virtual
surrounding where everything within that sphere relates necessarily to
the proposed "reality" of that world's cyberspace and where the
immersant is seemingly altogether disconnected from exterior physical
space. As such, total-immersion promotes a conflated but promiscuous
ontological feeling (awareness/consciousness) where aesthetic cognition
of the limits of the aesthetic environment attain the actual state of
"the generally non-mathematizable subjective world of consciousness"
(Shear, p. 194) itself: non-spatiality. (McGinn, pp. 220-223) This ideal
standard of total conflation, a standard which the VR industry itself
has established for VR, will carry a good deal of the explanatory burden
in the formation of a theory of aesthetic immersive consciousness.

A rhizomatic recombinant mythos based on ideals of total-immersion
detected in art and philosophy which explores certain hypothetical
states of semi-disembodiment (i.e., semi-deprivation of normal cognitive
body-image; or what Mark Pesce identified as what occurs in the mind
when the self, via technological extensions, removes itself from itself
(Pesce, 1993)) needs to weave the strands of art historical immersive
manifestations sub specie immersivis (from the point of view of
immersion). By doing so, probable questions will be raised around
immersion concerning totalizing idealisms (all assertions of totalities
in this text are recognized as cognitive unification operations) and
their imaginative effects on the ways we today model the world in art.
In this respect, this dissertation is informed by an idea adapted from
the Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin's (1864-1945) Principles of
Art History in which Wölfflin argued for a classification of styles
based on historical modes of ideal imaginative beholding. Beginning with
the aesthetic theories of his teacher Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897),
particularly Burckhardt's doctrine of equivalents in art (whereby visual
and ideal values are seen as interchangeable), Wölfflin developed the
concept of an ideal imaginative beholding which defines the formal
disposition of an era's style in tandem with his theory of
prefigurations, which postulated intuitive method as inclusive in art.
(Wölfflin, 1915)

Accordingly, we will be studying imaginative and intuitive ideals of
total-immersion both from my point of view as a practicing artist and as
an art theoretician. Hence, besides preparing the reader for bounces
back and forth between the first and the third person voice in the text,
I shall establish straight away my fundamental contention that all art
is conceptual and imaginative because art only exists conceptually
(Kosuth), and that it participates in the imaginative metaphysical realm
of externalized fabulation (Scholes), a notion which I find consistent
with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's (1770-1831) concept of art as idea
rendered sensible. (Hegel, 1979) In this view, art is a fabrication, an
imaginative beholding which makes us realize exactness through the
powers of intuitive caprice. (Picasso) It seems to me however that one
must take this basic understanding a bit further and maintain that art
is utterly dependent upon, and is in fact, metaphysics: the
philosophical study of the basic concepts of existence which include
epistemology, ontology, and aesthetics as inaugurated by Aristotle's
(384-322 BC) commentators. Or to put it the other way around, as the
German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Josef von Schelling (1775-1854)
did, "Without metaphysics, not only is there no philosophy, but no art".
(Schenk, p. 184) For the idealist philosophers, of which Schelling
belonged and for whom Hegel is considered the culmination (Aiken, p.
71), metaphysics is not a sort of magical super-physics but rather
ideology itself. (Aiken, p. 115) Art's philosophical/metaphysical (and
hence hypothetical) ideological underpinnings may not often be stated
explicitly within the work however, as more times than not art smoothly
participates in the dominant metaphysics and ideology of the culture in
which it appears. (Eagleton) Therefore the critical distance gained from
a congregation of explicit metaphysical/ideological conceptions are
fundamental to the understanding of immersive art (i.e., art which
attempts to include everything of perceptual worth within its domain
ambiently but coherently and accordantly in an overall enveloping
totality that is concerted, continuous, and without overly evident frame
or border), just as they are with all art, as art is never transparent
but always stems from concealed and forgotten theory-laden processes of
idealization. (Wolff, 1993, p. 105)

So to begin I shall identify that in the schematized ideological
aesthetics of virtual immersion the immersant discovers an all-over,
metaphysical and indeterminate algorithmic depth (the basis of any
computer program is an algorithm, a prescribed set of rules that define
the parameters of a solution to a problem (Knuth)) and I can say
forthwith that this is VR's raison d'être as it concerns art and art's
discursive influence on our states of consciousness, which is only a
start. Next we need to define what we mean by consciousness. This is not
an uncomplicated matter, for as the philosopher and specialist in
consciousness studies Dr. David Chalmers says in his seminal essay
"Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness"; "there is nothing that we
know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing
harder to define". (Chalmers, 1995, p. 200)

Fundamental psychology breaks consciousness into two essential
categories: the state of awareness and the subjective aspect of
neurological activity (i.e., the impression of self so produced,
whatever its actual cause). (O'Doherty, E. F.) There are sub-categories
and variations of these however, for example some researchers define
consciousness as the totality of experience at any given instant, as
opposed to mind, which is the sum of all past moments of consciousness.
(Metzinger) Schelling, in agreement with Immanuel Kant (1724-1804),
maintained that the only thing which we can have direct knowledge of is
our consciousness. (Schelling, 1988) However, consciousness, in Aldous
Huxley's (1894-1963) view, (as influenced by William James' (1842-1910)
study The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature
(James)) is mainly an abridgment application which allows us to
construct a coherent world view based on selective oblivion. (Huxley,
Aldous, 1970, p. 22) Lately, Brian Massumi, Research Fellow at the
Humanities Research Centre of the Australian National University,
author, and a prominent English translator of Deleuze and Guattari,
upheld Huxley's/James' "subtractive" understanding of consciousness by
seeing both will and consciousness as "limitative, derived functions
which reduce a complexity too rich to be functionally expressed".
(Massumi, 1995, p. 90)

Dr. John Lilly, by using cognitive psychology's computational model of
the mind, defined consciousness as the human biocomputer's
"self-metaprogrammer". The biocomputer's programming, according to
Lilly, is that set of internally consistent instructions which prepare,
send, store, process, and select signal information in and out of the
biocomputational activity of the brain, most of which can be adjusted
through a self-metaprogramming process initiated by the
self-metaprogrammer. (Lilly, 1974, pp. 138-139) According to Deleuze,
consciousness is "the passage, or rather the awareness of the passage,
from less potent totalities to more potent ones, and vise versa."
(Deleuze, 1984, p. 21) This hypothesis receives support from Thomas
Metzinger when he writes in Conscious Experience that "...holism is a
higher-order property of consciousness" and that "this global unity of
consciousness seems to be the most general phenomenological
characteristic of conscious experience...". (Metzinger, p. 30) Hence the
19th century German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte's (1762-1814)
theorized "unity of consciousness" in which "all the opposites are
united" (Fichte, 1889, p. 84) is confirmed by Metzinger's findings. Dr.
Chalmers in his book The Conscious Mind also confirms Fichte's theory by
putting forth a notably unaccustomed elucidation of consciousness by
discarding the dominant reductionist inclinations of modern science
(with its experiential template that selectively filters and shapes
awareness (Poincaré)). Chalmers established that previous cognitive
neuroscience did not explain how subjective experience emanates from
neural processes in the brain (an organic assemblage which consists of
an estimated 13 billion neurons). For Chalmers consciousness is to be
circumscribed as "the phenomena of experience" (Chalmers, 1995, p. 201)
which must be conceived as a totality: an irreducible manifestation that
subsists at a basic stratum which cannot be conceived of as the
aggregate of simpler corporeal parts. (Chalmers, 1996)

When we bring together and cross-link the above concepts of
consciousness we see that consciousness basically is the awareness and
appreciation of the feeling of being. Indeed Chalmers states that "there
is a direct correspondence between consciousness and awareness".
(Chalmers, 1995, p. 212) This ontological definition of awareness as
consciousness (an ontological, therefore essentially a metaphysical
definition) will establish initial understandings into immersive
consciousness and its place in constituting a supplementary art history
in accordance with Deleuze's alternative history of philosophy.
(Douglass, pp. 47-48) However, the preferred decisive point in
understanding total-immersion in the context of art is its facilitation
of a more potent conscious-totality in the creative art audience
produced by merging the audience's perceptual circuitry seemingly with
the artwork. In this light it might be possible to define immersive
states of consciousness as conditions and orders of conscious awareness
in which perception-cognition (i.e., visual awareness linked to the
process of forming intelligence) is found to consist of more than
everyday (non-conceptual) vision (Ivins, 1975) typically reveals by
merging it with some manifestation suggestive of a transcendent more.
This condition may be thought of as a bypassing of habitual processes of
spatial thinking (Howard & Templeton) through an assiduously expanded
macro-vision/intelligence based on conditions of excess which provides
the immersant with an unfilled sense of internal union with unrealizable
breadth through implicative art.

By states of immersive consciousness I mean then our miscellaneous
neurological/ontological sense of the gradient unity of sentient self in
internal rapport with its surrounding milieu (Wilson, E. O., 1998); that
visual/mental property of atmospheric self-attentive awareness,
cognizance, and feeling that allows us to experience a sense of nexus
with our ostensibly unified surroundings, albeit laced with
vicissitudes. I have observed in myself that immersive states of
consciousness tend towards unconstrainment while being based on a
routine sense of shifting-self (immersed in degrees) within the ambient
biosphere which is experienced when self-attentive.

In that my usage of the term, immersive consciousness corresponds to an
aesthetic moment's totality of experience when viewer and view coalesce,
immersive consciousness' metaphysical depth is not a pre or non
post-modern (Sarup) metaphysical depth free from consciousness of its
diverse objectives and results and pluralistic influences (plurality and
diversity are essential to Post-Modernism (Jencks, p. 6)) as according
to Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) in his Aesthetic Theory, art and
aesthetics must not try to erase fractures through integration but
rather to "preserve in the aesthetic whole the traces of those elements
which may have resisted integration". (Adorno, 1984, p. 271)
Consequently, as the reader will soon see, Immersive Ideals / Critical
Distances contains traces of a wide number of diverse cultural,
philosophical and theoretical concepts along with numerous extant art
examples which I found useful in drawing out the sense in which
immersive cultural traits (and the various pluralistic states of
immersive consciousness which accompany them) are especially pertinent
as I have been able to identify them and their background ideals over
the span of time.

An understanding of this immersed self-attentive shifting-self requires
a surpassing of the limiting tropes of logical positivist empiricism
(Mach, 1914) however, as immersive consciousness starts in the
non-delineating darkness of closed but debonair eyes. This buoyant,
dark, non-delineation, as Dr. John Lilly's report "The Effect of Sensory
Deprivation on Consciousness" shows, provides a wide range of
self-attentive potentialities for immersive consciousness which run
counter to the dictates of logical positivism. (Lilly, 1962) Logical
positivism was the early-20th century philosophical movement which
emerged from the Vienna Circle group of philosophically minded
scientists and logicians organized around Moritz Schlick (1882-1936) as
influenced by the anti-subjectivist, positivist, empirical philosophy of
the Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach (1838-1916). Logical
positivism was based in opposition to the idealist philosophy of Hegel
and hence stressed the exclusive value of logic and positivism (Comte)
over self-attentiveness. Schlick and the Vienna Circle's other members;
Otto Neurath (1882-1945), Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) and Rudolf Carnap
(1891-1970) maintained that only verifiable statements (verified by
observation or empirical data) were meaningful. Statements about art
were nonsense to them. (Stewart, p. 85)

A consideration of this self-attentive immersed shifting-self is post
logical positivist also in that it accepts various theories of
consciousness which discuss consciousness as being emergent rather than
representational. (Churchland, 1986) Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) (who we
must remember was a theorist who rooted his theories in anecdotal
evidence and whose writing was literary) identified an artist as one who
offers insights into such an emergent consciousness as it emerged from
within the unconscious realm. (Ellenberger) Moreover, Martin Heidegger
(1889-1976) maintained that being, which we shall study here, is the
most unconsciousness of concepts because we are thoroughly immersed in
it. (Heidegger, 1962) Siegfried Zielinski, foremost theoretician of
media at the Köln Academy of Media and Ph.D. in philosophy, proposes
that consciousness is our most unconsciousness interface, as it is
"where world/worlds/reality/realities are formulated" (Hoekendijk, p.
3), an observation which compliments Fichte's contention that "all
reality is in consciousness". (Fichte, 1889, p. 84)

The terminology consciousness means verbatim with knowingness and stems
from the Latin verb scire (which means to know), as does the word
science. But that is not all there is to it as applied to art, for
consciousness in art seems to be ultimately like a web woven in the
mind/body of various silken-strands spun forth from interlacing states
of unconscious desire (Meier) which semi-automatically control the
paradigmatic creation and reception of art. (Lilly, 1974, p. xviii) This
definition coincides with R. G. Collingwood's definition of
consciousness, in paradigmatic art terms, as that which is a "kind of
thought which stands closest to sensation or mere feeling" as
"transformed into imagination". (Collingwood, p. 223) Paradigmatic
consciousness has emerged in the 20th century due largely to the
philosophical work of the American philosopher Thomas Kuhn who has
argued that scientific "progress" does not simply occur in stages based
on neutral observations but that all observation is theory-laden. For
Kuhn, the history of science, and I would argue art as well, is
characterized by revolutions in outlook. (Stewart, p. 93) Indeed
unconscious desires shape the paradigms which contour intentional
expressions in art through the subtle powers of sublimation when the
sexual desires of the libido are turned into cultural ones via the
mediation of the artist's ego. (Freud, 1958) The question of how
Freudian unconscious desires are manifest in conscious cultural
production and interpretation will be one of our minor themes here
throughout. This is a non-problematic working assumption in that even
those which maintain that art is fundamentally a materialistic, social,
and conscious product (Wolff, 1993, p. 1) acknowledge that the role and
function of art is located in its power to transformtionally change
consciousness. (Wolff, 1993, p. 92)

We may begin then by establishing that bi-conscious visual acumen
involves a spectral feedback between the perceiving agent and the broad
consciously and unconsciously perceived atmospheric aesthetic
surroundings. Ergo, with total-immersion as a model for how we may
procure bi-conscious visual aptitude and awareness in its fullest
intensity, we shall carefully check peripheral vision (Marr) in
relationship to the spatial experience of virtual immersion (Henry &
Furness) as military investigations have shown that intensified
peripheral perceptions lead to sharpened psycho-motor reactions in human
beings and hence to a more comprehensive cognizance of their rapport
with their total surroundings. (Psotka, Davison & Lewis) It is salient
that human vision operates through a cooperation between the more
conscious foveal area at the center of the visual field (which takes in
information concerning shape and pattern via an enormous amount of rapid
eye movements (Carpenter)) in union with the surrounding, more
unconscious, peripheral retina (which gathers atmospheric information on
the total scope of the space one is within). (Rheingold, p. 207) The
central fovea is made up entirely of cone photoreceptors and is the part
of the eye that detects fine detail and is specialized for light adapted
photopic viewing conditions. Although cones exist throughout the retina,
they are by far most concentrated in the fovea. Foveal cones are
specialized for finer acuity as each foveal cone has a dedicated channel
to a ganglion cell and, as a result, does not have to share inputs with
other receptors. This allows for small receptive fields, providing fine
acuity. (Piantaneda, Boma & Gille)

The peripheral retina is attentive to changes in the total environment,
signaling to the foveal area where to focus within the entirety of
space. (Rheingold, p. 207) This peripheral retina is populated mostly
with rod-receptors, along with a small proportion of cones. Rods, though
absent in the fovea, number approximately 120 million in the retina
compared to about 6 million cones. Thus there are approximately 120
million sensors in the retina and only 6 million channels into the brain
from the retina. (Youngblood, p. 46) Rods are specialized for viewing
dim illuminations but do not code color or fine detail. Rather, rod
inputs link with neighboring rod and cone inputs to one ganglion cell in
a (more unconscious) process called spatial summation. (Piantaneda, Boma
& Gille) Spatial summation results in larger receptive fields attentive
to the space which "surrounds the body, is before and behind, past and
future, where one is both seer and object seen." (Weiss, p. 34)

All that will be said concerning immersive perception, cognition, and
interpretation will indirectly infer back to this atmospheric process
called spatial summation with its process of understanding enlarged
receptive fields. And in terms of this summative sense influencing an
immersive cognitive-visuality, it is reasonable to make use of the
holonogic schematic model of Arthur Koetler in that no set or frame of
perceptions may be viewed in isolation or as a single part of a finite
perceptual collection within a synthetic holonogic model. (Koetler) This
cognitive-visual model is applicable to immersive (unframed hence
expanded) visual intelligence in that, as the artist Carolee Schneemann
has written, "Vision is not fact, but an aggregate of sensations".
(Schneemann, 1968, p. 12) Victor Burgin supports Schneemann's claim when
he writes that "seeing is not an activity divorced from the rest of
consciousness; any account of visual art which is adequate to the facts
of our actual experience must allow for the imbrication of the visual
with other aspects of thought". (Burgin, p. 53) Thus an holonogic model
of cognitive-vision would be appropriate when analyzing virtual
immersion in that when immersed inside the mise en scène of a Virtual
Environment (VE), view-point/ego-center simultaneously implodes and
explodes (and vice versa) as observation is deprived of its habitual
perceptive boundaries. According to Koetler's holon concept (established
in Beyond Reductionism) instead of cutting up immersive perceptual
wholes into discrete focal parts, immersion should be scrutinized and
understood using synthetic sub-whole sets found within the ambient
atmospheric spectrum of immersive perception's entirety. (Koetler) It is
the exposé of the synthetic atmospheric phenomenology of such holonertic
sight (dependent on the linked and amassed sum-total of views) which
will concern us here as even though our scopic information is largely
determined by the way our eyes work horizontally implanted in the front
of our face (cross-blending visual fields), our interpretations of that
visual data are far from intractable. (Haber & Hershenson) We are
equipped with eyes with dominant frontal properties which look straight
on of course, but in holonogic cognitive-perception there is also aware
attendant fringes to sight which seep in peripherally. (Cutting)

Such an approach is consistent with, and indeed epitomizes, the ideals
of hermeneutics, as in hermeneutics the central notion is that we cannot
grasp the meaning of a portion of a work until we understand the whole,
even though one cannot understand the whole until one understands the
parts which make it up. (Caputo, 1987) However, hermeneutics is not
merely a paradox, since hermeneutics indicates that any feat of
interpretation occurs through time, with adjustments and modifications
being made to one's comprehension of both the parts and the whole in a
circular manner, until some type of resolution is attained. (Gadamer,

Useful here also in grasping the workings of the holonogic/hermeneutic
model is the influence of Aaron Gurvitch and his gestalt psychology
which was developed in order to formulate a phenomenology that
recognized the relation of the dynamic field that encompasses both
foreground and background perceptual moments to more rigorously define
the nature of perception. (Koffka) Gestalt theory's precepts emphasize
that the whole of anything is greater than its parts. Indeed it
emphasizes that the attributes of the whole of anything are not
deducible from analysis of the parts in isolation. Instead gestalt
studies make use of the methods of phenomenology, the description of
direct psychological experience with no restrictions on what is
permissible in the description. Gestalt psychology sought to encompass
the qualities of form, meaning, and value that prevailing psychologists
had either ignored or thought to fall outside the confines of science.
(Horgan) Moreover, gestalt psychology emerged in part as an attempt to
add a humanistic dimension to what was considered a barren approach to
the scientific study of mental life. In the field of art theory, Ernst
Hans Gombrich's conceptual involvement with gestalt ideas of vision
(Kanizsa) is evidenced in his books Art and Illusion: A Study in the
Psychology of Pictorial Representation and The Image and the Eye:
Further Studies in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation; books
which articulated the relativity of vision in terms of visual art.

Such an extensively engrossed holonogic/hermeneutic approach towards
cognitive sight, as outlined above, would be in opposition to what
Donald Lowe in his History of Bourgeois Perception identifies as the
"bourgeois perceptual field", which he characterizes as "fundamentally
non-reflexive". (Lowe, p. 26) In that our adult creativity derives
primarily from our conspicuous potential for abstraction (which
characterizes our genus) and in our craving and manipulation of
abstractions (Worringer), what is at stake here is the adult acceptance
(or rejection) of our entire atmospheric impressions as our genuine
optical-field of conscious creative interest; an abstract optical-field
which calls on the retina's tremendous expansive qualities of which the
descriptions of the scientist and the doctor have not done suitable
justice. Early on in the 20th century Marcel Proust (1871-1922) in his
masterpiece Remembrance of Things Past, links such a craving to sense
and understand the entire field of atmospheric impressions (through
intimate observations) with the compunction to penetrate exterior matter
in order to understand the precision of the sensuality behind the
aesthetic. (Proust) Still, this ephemeral aesthetic-vision has only been
addressed by the rare visual artist, such as Wassily Kandinsky
(1866-1944) when he spoke of this field's felt scopic atmosphere as a
space's stimmung. (Kandinsky, p. 2)

One way to better apprehend the ambient optical field's felt scopic
atmosphere is to think of it in terms of a study of cognitive-visual
acoustics. This is equitable in that sight itself is nothing other than
a continuous pattern of perpetually changing light-data recorded on the
retina which we humans process through the aggregated internal acts of
discerning. To understand cognitive-vision as being non-inflected with
subtle properties akin the acoustic properties of echo, range, pitch,
timbre, and tone is to discern all visual moments as being
indiscriminately equal, and as flat. Cognitive-perceiving is
continuously allocated by tones of recognition, ranges of totality, and
distributed visual echoes as humans produce a full interpretation of the
plethoric information which hits their retinas in order to assign it
cultural meaning. (Brennan & Jay) More precisely, such an acoustic-like
cognitive-visuality would involve the equivalent to what in acoustics is
called envelope. Envelope, in musical sound, involves the onset, growth,
and decay of a sound. Growth consists of the rate of increase of a sound
to steady-state intensity. Duration refers to the steady-state of a
sound at its maximum intensity, and decay is the rate at which it fades
to silence. Envelope is an important element of timbre, the distinctive
quality, or tone color, of a sound. Every musical instrument has its
characteristic attack, growth, duration, and decay pattern. My
supposition is that so do aesthetic visual moments (but not in term of
time; in terms of peripheral spatial intelligence) when holonogicly
self-attended to.

By studying such an envelope vision in terms of immersion, in a sense
this thesis participates in the recent investigations of visuality into
what Martin Jay has called the "ocular character of all Western culture"
and the "Cartesian perspectivalism that dominates the modern era"
(Brennan & Jay, 1996, p. 31), a Cartesian perspectivalism which,
according to Hal Foster, separates subject from object, "rendering the
first transcendental and the second inert". (Foster, 1988, p. x) Such
investigations include Guy Debord's critique of the Society of the
Spectacle (Debord, 1983), Jacqueline Rose's investigation into the
sexuality of the objectifying, male, patriarchal gaze (Rose), and Michel
Foucault's (1926-1984) analysis of the panopticon paradigm. (Foucault,
1979) For example, according to Foucault the major effect of the
panopticon (a circular prison designed by the British philosopher Jeremy
Bentham (1748-1832) based on his principles of "happiness calculus") is
to induce in the prison inmate (and by extension anyone) a state of
consciousness that assures the automatic functioning of power.
(Foucault, 1979, p. 201)

It must be remembered here that in philosophy synthetic statements are
those statements judged to be true or false in relationship to the world
(but which are not necessary ones), as opposed to analytical truths,
which are necessary, and hence cannot be otherwise. In philosophy it is
important to make this distinction between synthetic and analytical
statements. Only when we acknowledge that this investigation partakes in
synthetic activity might we enter the concept of holonogic
cognitive-vision into consideration, and only if we understand holonogic
cognitive-vision to be a synthetic psychological thought-vision without
any one particular vector but rather a plethora of them united into one
void of the suppositional central vanishing-point which the horizon-line
had previously established.

The synthetic notion being pursued here then is of an atmospheric and
holonogic cognitive-vision constituted by what goes on in and behind the
head as much as by what is in front of it. Hence it is a synthetic
cognitive-vision in accordance with Immanuel Kant's dictate that
philosophy ought to investigate how we understand our world. (Lyotard,
1994) Tim McFadden in his text "Notes on the Structure of Cyberspace and
the Ballistic Actors Model" in Michael Benedikt's Cyberspace: The First
Steps (Benedikt, 1991, pp. 335-362) adapted the concept of the holon's
ambiguous relationships in the early-1990s as a model for understanding
the synthetic configuration of cyberspace in that holons, like
cyberspace, have both synthetic cohesion and separateness as their
structural elements. (McFadden) I find that the model holds true and is
valuably useful in conceptualizing the complexity of ambient immersive
optics in virtuality. Christine Buci-Glucksmann recognized and termed
this ubiquitous perspective the Icarian gaze in her book The
Cartographic Eye. (Buci-Glucksmann) This notion as well compliments Roy
Ascott's synthetic awareness of what he calls cyberception, as
articulated in his essay "The Architecture of Cyberception". According
to Ascott, "cyberception involves a convergence of conceptual and
perceptual processes in which the connectivity of telematic networks
plays a formative role. " (Ascott, 1994)

Certainly it is true that hidden in us and in connected computer space
there is something so large, so astounding, and so pregnant with the
darkness of infinite space (Rucker, 1984) that it excites and frightens
us and thus returns us to the experimental and to a state of stimulating
desire and perceptual restlessness. But more specifically, how any one
space feels is the aim of any immersive simulation, and the most complex
discernment to gauge. When people commonly speak of "getting the feel"
for a new place, I believe they are referring to their unconscious
holonogic-visual analysis of said space as any feeling of an environment
is established by unconscious exchanges of immersive information.
Unconscious particularly in art because there are clearly no objective
mimesistic values attributable to the felt qualities of art's space, for
as Jane Harrison tells us in Ancient Art and Ritual, art is not mimesis
(Bogue, 1991, pp. 77-78), but rather mimesis comes from art's emotional
expressions. (Harrison, p. 21) Too, László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
points out that "every cultural period has its own conception of space,
but it takes time for people consciously to realize it". (Moholy-Nagy,
1947, p. 56) We must additionally recognize that ideal immersive
consciousness (the silk of the peripheral unconsciousness) takes place
not only over time but within the emotional brain and that much of
immersive consciousness is supra-sensible. Therefore it is appropriate
that metaphysical (ideological) ideals in rapport with their
externalization in art will throw this dissertation through its entire

Concerning virtual space, all that we consciously know is that
cyberspace is a total abstraction (Pesce, Kennard & Parisi) which is
constructed, in philosophical terms, as a universality without totality.
(Lévy) Gilles Deleuze gives us a further explanation via the French
author Marcel Proust in his book Bergsonism by defining the virtual as
that which is "real without being actual, ideal without being abstract".
(Deleuze, 1988, p. 96) Ensuing Deleuze, Pierre Lévy in Becoming Virtual:
Reality in the Digital Age defines virtuality as a complex of trends,
tendencies, constraints, goals and forces linked to a creative problem
solving process. (Lévy) Brian Massumi, another Deleuzian in conspicuous
agreement with Lévy, defines the virtual as a "pressing crowd of
incipiencies and tendencies" which produce "a realm of potential". But
for Massumi the virtual is also "a lived paradox where what are normally
opposites coexist, coalesce, and connect...". (Massumi, 1995, p. 91)

There is no physical protoplasmic body evident in VR's virtual space,
merely an attention-vector that responds to spatial cues. (Balsamo) In
this respect the virtual body conforms to the technical "inhuman"
abstract body which Charles Wentinck describes as a body which has "no
contact with the surrounding atmosphere". (Wentinck, p. 157) An
immersant moves in virtual space by shifting a felt interest such that
an impression of movement is conveyed. How our states of feeling and
interest and consciousness are variegated by experiences within the
total abstraction of cyberspace will be of prime interest as we look to
see how abstract ideas and ideals impact upon the motivational theories
and practical employment of artists in the past and now.


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