With no centre

RAW described media space (or “experiental space”) as “de-centred” – with no absolute or “real” centre, but with an indefinite number of vantage points, ie relative “centres” of observation/experience. (To recap: he cited Digital McLuhan [1999] as presenting Giordano Bruno’s notion of a de-centred universe as “the perfect model of cyberspace” – see Bruno/McLuhan/Net).

“The user is the content”
– Marshall McLuhan, late 1970s

In cyberspace and virtual reality, the lines between media (object) and experiencer (subject) become fuzzier. As McLuhan pointed out, older media forms become the content of new media (easy enough to see – a novel becomes the content of a film; film becomes the content of video; video becomes the content of the web, etc).

As Paul Levinson suggests (in Digital McLuhan), you can see this process operating further back, originating with the experiencer (or “user”) – eg the medium of thought as content of speech; the medium of speech as content of writing; writing as content of print media, etc. But what does the medium of thought have as its content? The “real external world” which is “media-less”, except for the special case of media forms/devices in the world (eg a radio in your room), says Levinson.

But you could say the medium of thought has “sensory input” as its content. And if the “sensory input” comes from, say, a dream or an advanced form of cyberspace or virtual reality device, then where “is” the centre of experience? (Usually assumed, or felt, in “normal” waking circumstances, to be physically located behind the eyes – according to informal studies I’ve read).

De-centred experience

‘If “matter” is a metaphor, what of the “space” and “time” in which it is conventionally assumed either to move or stand still?’
– Robert Anton Wilson, The New Inquisition

“LSD takes you out of the normal space-time ego… I always go through a process in which the space game comes to an end, the time game comes to an end, and then the Timothy Leary game comes to an end.”
– Leary quoted in RAW’s book, Cosmic Trigger volume 1

The very notion of individual selves – “real” separate centres of experience – seems to depend on taking the space/time/matter “materialist” construct literally, as opposed to metaphorically. (In that sense, most of us could perhaps be viewed as “fundamentalist” materialists – at least part of the time).

After all, how can we distinguish different experiencers (individual selves) except through parameters such as location? You seem “there” somehow, while I seem “here”. Location, separation, division, difference, containment (inside/outside), numerability, etc – they all imply (and depend on) spatial – ie material – constructs. Even if you think more in terms of minds or “souls” (rather than physical bodies), any characteristic you can think of that seems to distinguish one “centre of experience” from another will boil down to spatial/material concepts. And in order to seem to exist, individual selves require the notion of duration, ie time conceptualised in spatial/quantitative terms.

Deconstruction, in some sense – but not outright dismissal/rejection – of these conventional “materialist”* constructs thus seems necessary for the soteriological projects that RAW and Leary seemed committed to. (And deconstruction even seems beneficial in other, more “concrete” ways – as described, for example, in The New Inquisition. But that seems a slightly different debate).

In any case, the de-centering of media/cyber space that follows from different types of deconstruction and evolution of media and its experiencers seems, to me, an incredibly fascinating topic of the book that unfortunately never saw the light of day – RAW’s The Tale of the Tribe.

“You realize that there is no thing inside you called a self”
– Shinzen Young’s “executive summary” of enlightenment

‘Even the ordinary “I’m in here – the world’s out there” notion is the popular science of 200 years ago serving as our everyday intuitions today.’
– Greg Goode, Standing as Awareness

See also my post on inherent “physicality”, on how our notions of separation and difference (underlying constructs of our personal egos, as it were) seem shaped by physical/materialist concepts.

* I use the term loosely here, leaving various scientific/philosophical definitions for another time.

3 thoughts on “With no centre

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  1. Interesting post and quite shrewd in bringing together media evolution and deconstruction of the experiencer self. McLuhan complained that people didn’t read his books, and that’s probably still the case, so it’s great to see his ideas in a fresh context under the RAW rubric. Really enjoying this blog. keep going.

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    1. I appreciate that, Phil, as I thought it might seem a non sequitur. On McLuhan, I recommend Levinson’s popularisation (and so did RAW).

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