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Table of Contents
Towards Virtual Technology: Varieties of Togetherness
Relationship Heaven and Hell
The Height and Depth of Virtual Reality
The Corporeal Region
The Sensuous Region
The External Rational Region
The Interior Rational Region
The Spiritual and Celestial Region
The Forces of Cummunity-Building Evil in Cyberspace
Towards Virtual Technology: Varieties of Togetherness
Since joint focus is the method of virtual power, we can observe the varieties of societal strategies used to produce virtual reality. Each cultural tool listed in figure 1 encompasses a variety of interaction styles. Consider four points along the evolutionary line: relationships, teams, nations, and cyberspace. Each provides a societal means for the individual to be a member of a group. Though this membership, interactions are produced. Virtual reality exists and grows within these interactions. Think of virtual reality as a space or medium filled with spiritual substances, like shapable silly putty in your artistic hands. You press the formless plastic into a shape conforming to your desire.
Similarly, you press formless virtual substance into meaningful or navigable environments for the self through interacting with others within the cultural framework of the group. The character of 'virtual silly putty' is the same as the character of communal mind. Swedenborg's eyewitness reports of the spiritual world gives us an understanding of the character of virtual substances which our will can shape into navigable and permanent environments for selves. The most specific and pure form of virtual substances, as revealed to Swedenborg and experienced by him, is Good and Truth endlessly streaming from the Divine into the human race's communal mind. These two pure substances are infinitely complex in virtual potential. The more they get finited into chunks and mixed into complex constructions, the more they become impure, general, and materialistic.
At first I was surprised at this relation. The situation appears to be the opposite with physical matter. We think of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon as simple and pure elements, which get more complex as they are mixed into compounds such as water and wood. The water, as chemical compound, is more complex then either the oxygen or hydrogen that are its simple constituents. Swedenborg shows that with spiritual substances the reality is different. What you start out with is at once the most complex and simplest and purest, and as it complicates itself and becomes complex, it is less pure, less spiritual, more inert and lifeless.
Following this rationale, we can see that virtual reality in potential is pure, simple, and endless, and contains all future possibilities which get formed through human interactions. This happens in different ways, depending on the societal strategy and its cultural procedures for carrying out interactions. Consider how this may happen in relationships, teams, nations, and cyberspace.
Relationship Heaven and Hell
It is a commonplace experience that relationships encompass both pleasant and unpleasant exchanges or states of mind. Viewed virtually, relationships are tools for good or evil, truth or delusion. Two people can achieve joint focus to different depths and regions of virtuality. The virtual substances at our disposal, good and truth in endless combinations, can be used or abused. This is the spiritual character of good and truth. It is a characteristic that helps insure spiritual freedom. My own individual mind region can take good and distort it, or can take truth and falsify it. For example, in an exchange with someone, I can take a remark intended as jest and turn it into an insult in my mind. The other person's intention and desire of the will was positive in its origin, but it turned sour, or negative, after my mind processed it virtually.
We may read some truth which our cognitive recognizes and even admires. Yet a moment later, under the strong influence of prior prejudices, we distort the truth statement into an angle which fits more our current loves and intentions. The truth from communal mind, carried through the statement, now exists in my mind as untruth or falsity or delusion. Note that falsified truth originates in truth, and corrupted good originates in good. Only good and truth from the Divine exist in communal mind, but the law of spiritual freedom operating ceaselessly, insures that selves can form and evolve hellish zones of virtual reality constructed out of corrupted good (or evil) and falsified truth (or delusion).
Two people interacting can create joint focus by either agreeing or disagreeing on something, which may be either good and true, or evil and false. People can unite themselves into teams and bands for good or evil purposes, and in accordance with true principles or fantastical. An entire nation can unite itself to create a democratic haven for its citizens, or the forces of virtual evil and falsity can create mass societies led by secrecy and persuasion, terror and invasive control. Cyberspace has a potential for good or evil, true reality or delusion. Democratic freedom and individual good will can create a pleasant, fruitful, and efficient medium of virtual life for the planet's citizens. But there is also the potential for evil and delusion.
Consider competitive teams in our society, either industrial, civic, or sports. Within the team, members contribute solidarity, cohesiveness, willingness to obey, harmony, mutual concern and sharing of resources. This obviously builds a virtual zone that is good, enhancing, empowering, and nurturing. However, outside these integrating "in-feelings" the virtual zone may be warped into evil and false forces of prejudice, discrimination, hatred, intolerance. Note that the same societal tool, the team or sub-group, can create both positive and negative zones of virtual reality. Swedenborg's observations of the spiritual world can help us make a map of the zones of virtual reality. This may be called an endeavor in spiritual geography.
The Height and Depth of Virtual Reality
Spiritual communication within communal mind is a type of consociation, association, or togetherness between the will of selves, i.e., mind. Since physical distance or spatial limits do not exist in virtual reality, co-presence of individuals is based on joint focus or mutual awareness. The depth and orientation of consociation is determined by the virtual zone indicated by the quality of the interaction. Exploitative and selfish intentions or motives locate the person in negative zones of virtual reality, which is the only environment where this type of spiritual activity can occur. In other words, navigation laws in communal mind force you into alignment with your activity. Bad things can only be done in bad zones. Intending the bad forces you into those zones. And the same with good. Navigation in virtual reality is through desire and intention.
Positive zones allow the formation of unity and togetherness while negative zones allow the formation of fragmentation and separateness. Swedenborg outlines six zones of the spiritual world, three external and three internal. I made a diagram which pictures these zones and the quality of the joint focus that identifies the possible activities in each zone -- see figure 2. The top of the virtual world supports zones of unity and love, and can be described as pure, specific, clear, and alive. The bottom of the virtual world supports zones of fragmentation and separativeness, and can be described as compound, abstract, obscure, and inert or "dead".
The Corporeal Region
At the bottom region of virtual world is the corporeal zone of mind. When left to itself, this region of the mind has a degrading tendency to turn negative through fantasy and delusion. When we find ourselves in that region, our will is inundated with selfish motives that strive to exploit others and enslave their will to ours. This affective inundation seeks cognitive confirmations which lead to all sorts of negative interpersonal behaviors. This is a hellish region which can be avoided by easing ourselves out of it through virtual navigation efforts up the virtual shaft.
The Sensuous Region
Above the corporeal mind is the sensuous mind. "Above" in virtual reality always means "in control." The sensuous region of mind exercises control over the corporeal region. Activities going on at the sensuous level precede and control, select and suppress, the activities at the corporeal level. The will uses sensuous substances to control corporeal substances. Cognitive activities in the sensuous region have been characterized by contemporary social scientists under such topics as "face work," "being defensive," and "fundamentalism." In face work, a concept I learned from Erving Goffman in his books in the 1960s and 70s, our will is involved in preserving various reputation claims by which we live in our several every day roles. The joint focus of the interactants is sensuous, thus producing virtual reality in the sensuous zone. I watch my face and your face, and you watch your face and my face.
By "face" is meant "reputation." You can do something to "injure my face," as when you catch me in a lie, or when you deprecate one of my interests. I am then insulted, pained, nonplused. I may or may not show it, or retaliate, depending on what's at stake in the relationship. I thus always act to defend my belongings, what's mine -- my reputation, my claims, my expectations, my rights, the things I deserve, and so on. It is endless. In intellectual matters, this chronic defensive face work posture, leads into the lifestyle of fundamentalism in its various familiar forms in religion, politics, values, and activities.
Fundamentalism is a region in communal mind which can trap us and enslave us in negative experiences forever -- the hell of fundamentalism in the sensuous region of virtual reality. This is not a necessary outcome. The next level of mind, or the external rational allows us an escape from fundamentalism's negative aspects.
The External Rational Region
The external rational region of communal mind is a huge step over the sensuous-corporeal zone. Fundamentalism and defensive face work postures originate in literalness, which is a sensuous focus. Two individuals can upgrade their joint focus, stuck in sensual exchanges, by re-interpreting the sensuous signals that constantly bombard them, thus rising above them through new meaning, which brings new feelings and thoughts, thus new vistas and regions of communal mind. Navigation up the shaft of virtual reality is made possible by rational transformation of sensory observations. New modes of reality, of interchange, and of behavior are made possible in this higher region.
Competition now becomes possible because sensuous outcomes can be reinterpreted in alignment with agreed upon procedures. Societal laws and informal contracts between individuals govern the rules of competition, both during the event and afterwards. Rational law and order brings ethics, human rights, justice, and peace. These forms of virtual reality exist in regions which prevent the formation of intolerance, discrimination, and violence. Thus the implicit degradation that normally would be attached to fundamentalism and defensiveness can be avoided. The external rational should rule over the sensuous-corporeal. When people uphold this rule, they maintain themselves in positive regions of virtual space.
Yet the external rational also has an inherent flaw which can cause it to be brought down, to be turned inside out and upside down, which brings it under the control of the sensuous, even of the corporeal. Think of the despicable fundamentalism of the nazi society. It may be an industrially advanced nation that falls into such delusion and fantasy. The external rational is then abused or misused or turned into a corrupted version of itself, existing in an entirely different region of virtual reality, yet posing and simulating the outer character of higher regions. The external rational is vulnerable to capture by the sensuous forces unless protected by the interior rational.
The Interior Rational Region
The interior rational is structurally different from the external rational. The line between the interior and the external is as basic as the line between the natural and the spiritual, between body and mind, between temporal and eternal. In virtual reality, "temporal" does not relate to time but to region or state of mind. Regions through which we navigate on our way to other regions are temporal in this sense. The substance of the external rational is mixed with the substance of the sensuous and corporeal. Ideas in the external rational regions are cognitive representations of sensuous and corporeal signals which came into our memory through the sensory organs of the earthly body. The content of all thoughts in the external rational mind are rooted in representations of spatial objects and time-sequenced matter and motion. This is not the case with the interior memory which holds the content of thoughts that originate in spiritual regions of virtual reality.
Swedenborg writes that the existence of interior memory was not known in his day, in 18th century European intellectual society. He describes its functioning and many of its properties through the application of correspondences to the story in the Old Testament involving the sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. If you are familiar with the Bible story you might gain a quick glimpse of the two rational regions, if you think of Ishmael as the external rational (a rough man of the desert, adventuresome, and capable of building nations), while Isaac feels, thinks, and behaves like the internal rational (urban, peaceful, charitable, loyal to principles).
The structural or substantive difference between these two is such that they do not share common input. The external rational region receives input only from below. This means that it remains dependent on less stable regions, perhaps even regions subject to virtual earthquakes and end-of-world cataclysmic virtual experiences. Hellish forces ceaselessly lap at its edge. Materialism is a cultural expression of these seemingly rebellious and uncontrolled forces in communal mind. Materialism denies the spiritual and the virtual. It wants to own it all. If anything is not within matter, space, and time, then it is not. Swedenborg calls materialism a symptom of spiritual insanity.
The origin of the interior rational is not below itself, but above itself in virtual space. This means that it has the function of controlling all that is below itself while obeying to all that is above itself. As dual citizens we are given the interior rational by which to become spiritual. The spiritual is the region of virtual reality which is our redemption and salvation from natural mortal existence. We become spiritual when our activities are spiritual. The interior rational guides us to these spiritual activities. We are unaware of the existence of this region in mind without new concepts that the external rational cannot invent. For instance, the external rational cannot invent any concepts that refer to things above itself such as spiritual, heaven, God, sin, evil, omnipotence, miracle, eternity, revelation, marriage love, and so on. I have observed that when these words are used in a materialistic sense they do not convey virtual meaning, only sensuous or physical. Thus, God is used to denote infinite power or divine forces, not the Divine as Person. Sin, evil, good, truth, revelation -- these are made entirely relative, historical, or cultural, not absolute, real, and virtual. Marriage love is seen as a biological and legal grouping, not a spiritual conjoining. Spiritual concepts are not grounded in sensory ideas but in celestial ideas.
The Spiritual and Celestial Region
We can elevate ourselves into spiritual and celestial regions of communal mind through the subordination of the external rational to the internal rational. This means that we are subordinating the sensuous ideas and feelings to spiritual ideas and feelings. Paul in the New Testament distinguishes between the external man and the inner man, one natural and corrupted, the other celestial and new. Swedenborg's extremely detailed exegesis of the Books of Genesis and Exodus in the Old Testament brings out numerous aspects of this battle between the external and interior of the human mind. It is the battle of regeneration, of a reformation into a new birth. The new virtual personality is called the "new man."
The content of the interior rational which is to rule over the external regions of the mind, is spiritual and celestial. You may see this when you contrast certain pairs of words like illegal vs. immoral, or moral vs. spiritual, or ethnic vs. universal, or partial vs. holistic, and so on. Spiritual concepts always presuppose unity, universality, revelation, omnipotence, virtuality. These presuppositions descend into the interior memory (or interior rational) where they can be seen and recognized as revealed truth or truth that originate in virtual heaven. But they cannot be seen directly (manifestly, tangibly, materially) by the external rational, which has to step aside and "trust" the content of the interior rational. When thus subordinated, the external rational can clean itself up, so to speak, of all its prejudices and limitations which originate in sensuous appearances. The spiritual concepts in the interior rational are navigational links by which we can project ourselves into the highest regions of communal mind. This is the celestial region. Without these links, we remain in the lower regions, eventually sinking lower and lower, all the way to delusional hell, which are to endured forever. What a fate! Hence we are warned throughout our life in the body by conscience and religion.
The celestial regions of virtual reality support activities and lifestyles known to us as heaven. It is fashionable today to laugh at a child's conception of heaven -- when an adult takes it seriously. This is the activity of the external rational which is filled only with sensuous, material ideas and feelings. Heaven is not to be believed. Yet Swedenborg visited the heavens over a 26-year period and described the types of activities which go on in that region of communal mind. Relationship activities are by units of the married couple rather than the individual. A husband cannot act separately from his wife, and vice versa. Their minds are united from within, which means that they can achieve the most intimate joint focus possible for human beings. Thoughts and feelings are freely communicated between them irrespective of their apparent individual activities. They are always co-present. Their virtuality never separates. It is touching to read Swedenborg's narratives of his interviews with heavenly couples. One is moved by their ever deepening unity, joy, happiness, and wisdom.
The conjugial love which exist in celestial regions of virtual reality intermingles with the neighbor couples forming units which Swedenborg calls Heavenly City. The people who have passed into the afterlife are capable of maintaining themselves in the Heavenly City forever, continuing to deepen their penetration of the celestial regions, turning their immortal life into an endless experience of joy and wisdom in company with others. This power of eternity is dependent on one's ability to receive the substances of Good and Truth that form that region, and incorporate them into one's own mind without transforming them into opposites. We develop this ability prior to entering the afterlife. It is clear therefore that the purpose of our life on earth is to acquire this virtual power.
The Forces of Community-Building
The purpose of studying spiritual psychology is to acquire the skills of community-building. Think of communal mind as the spiritual world outside time that space that contains the mind of every human, past and present. It will also contain the mind of all future generations, endlessly cumulating and building a grand universal human community, forging the many into a unity of purpose and vision. Swedenborg saw the grand design and it was split into two regions, positive and negative. The positive regions contain the numberless humanity formed into a single unity which he saw was in the shape of beautifully formed human body containing both female and male organs. But in the opposite region he saw a malformed monstrous and hideous body made of numberless humanity who willfully exercise their free will by maintaining themselves in antagonistic relation to the positive spiritual substances of love and truth. The heavens and the hells are thus both communities each acting as one. This is inevitable for the human spirit strives towards such unity by its very structure.
Spiritual psychology helps us maneuver between the positive and negative spiritual regions of virtual community-building. Every generation has developed philosophies and religions to help individuals choose between the positive and negative forces that are available. How to live right, this is the quest and the truth. In the balance lies everything. The forces of community-building are inexorably creating the global society through forces of social cohesiveness, association, communication, and conjunction. Our only choice is the direction we are willing to be moved. Is it fantasy, obsession, hatred, and delusion? Or is it drama, dream, truth, and love? One leads downward to tribal society, fragmentation, separation, and imperfection. The other leads upward to global society, cohesiveness, consociation, and perfection. Spiritual psychology helps us pick our way.
If you examine the Swedenborg Glossary that I am cumulating you will notice a moralistic theme which may strike the casual reader as offensive or unpleasant. This is something we all feel at first and need to get past to be able to go beyond our self-imposed limitations. The things I emphasize appear like hassles we rather do without in our busy lives -- self-examination, repentance, confession, reformation of character, cooperating with the Divine. Yet I believe that these are the very tools we need to acquire a good will and virtual power to navigate to our heaven. Swedenborg says that every religion teaches teaches the right way to live so that we may acquire the ability to live in positive regions of virtual reality, now and in the afterlife to eternity.
Look at the history of society and civilization on this earth. Starting with small family bands here and there, a unity was forged through the technology of civilizations. Bands gathered into tribes, which untied into nations that turned into mass societies, which are now conglomerating into the global village through cyberspace. This historical and evolutionary process of unition of humanity on earth parallels the very same process in the spiritual world. The global village in cyberspace operating within democratic ideals of universal human rights -- is this not an image of the Grand Human Swedenborg witnessed?
Swedenborg stated that the degree of perfection of humanity or community increases with the number and variety of individual members that are thus united. Mass society from the McLuhan perspective may seem depersonalizing as people's needs are submerged to the group and they lose their individuality and humanity. In think, however, that spiritual psychology and the study of virtual presence indicates differently. It may have seemed at first, that mass society is anti-individual. In the pre-computer days of radio and television, there were negative impressions of mass society and fears of the forces of uniformity and conformity. But these fears can now be laid aside with the advent of cyberspace which demonstrates that human interactivity in a technologically appropriate environment can be a societal tool for humanity's fusion.
Spiritual psychology and cyber-psychology are thus related fields of endeavor. Creating hypertext zones of virtual activity such as a Web Site creates endless opportunities for joint focus by masses of people. Cyberspace allows us to practice altruistic interactions motivated by the desire to associate and conjoin irrespective of ethnic or demographic background -- those barriers and limiters to communication in every day situations. Spiritual psychology informs us on the likely shape and evolution of cyberspace in the future since both operate according to the laws of virtual reality. We can predict that cyberspace will operate by direction and level (or depth). There will be created good zones and bad zones. Swedenborg asserts that to every heaven there is a corresponding hell. This is because every spiritual truth coming down into the interior rational, will be distorted by the external rational to fit the sensuous perspective. This forms a spiritual balance which the Divine preserves in order to insure freedom of choice in every act. Clicking is thus a spiritual act. And everything that supports it -- the webmaster, the server, the client, and the optic fiber highway.
Evil in Cyberspace
Dale Chase posted a listserv message for librarians concerning his observations of the virtual reality being produced through library access to Internet chat rooms. I would like to quote him:
Cyberspace offers opportunities for developing both good and evil virtual regions. Consider some of the developments that arose in its first decade of existence. "Flame wars" are common occurrences in electronic debates, newsgroups, listservs, or chat rooms. Here we have an expression of negative spiritual activity that shows itself in incivility, intolerance, intimidation, disapproval, condemnation, and hatred -- all bad regions of virtual reality. Posting hate literature is an ongoing activity which concerns society's watchdogs against intolerance and prejujdice such as the anti-defamation leage or the civil liberties union. Stealing billboards and signs off the information highway is very common. Despite my warnings to myself and my students, we find it irresitible at times to copy some covetted icon and install it on our Home Page, or to copy blocks of HTML source script from someone's Page and stick into ours. By this we steal looks, styles, designs, solutions, and sometimes money. How often it is tempting to download and keep a shareware software, and then keep postponing sending them a cheque, and postponing...
What are we producing when we become small pirates in cyberspace? We are creating negative virtual reality zones in which we and our co-conspirators keep ourselves busy, tunneling ever deeper into the dangerous mazes of hyperspace. The use of electronic mail for fraud and threat is on the rise. Electronic viruses represent evil in a pure form. What motivates a technologically advanced person to create an electronic Frankenstein that is intended to invade the computers of millions of innocent people and create damage, devastation, heartbreak, and loss of goods and productivity? The electronic medium offers immense possibilities for evil regions to be created, entrapping people, making them suffer.
There is an increase in the production of encrypting software to protect theft and network systems that create an electronic firewall against invasion of privacy. Filtering software have become necessary to control free access to the information highway which is growing in a fragmented explosive manner. There is a lack of common will to formulate and observe community standards in commercialism and content. There has been no provision made for organizing cyberspace into layers and zones suitable for a variety of purposes and demands. The idea of "virtual neighborhood" is not yet loved sufficiently to produce in cyberspace law and order within democratic freedom.
The evils of cyberspace are only now being explored. They offer a counterbalance for the good which is also being created. Swedenborg reports that children who pass on into the spiritual world at a young age are raised in heavenly cities by surrogate mothers and teachers who love infants to an exceptional degree. It is noteworthy that part of this celestial training includes teaching them about the existence of evil and its character, even though the spiritual environment they are in is fully protected and they need never come into contact with evil. Why then teach about it? This is done in the form of representations or telepathic projections, by which evil scenes, like dreams, are lived through and witnessed. The children's grasp of heaven and the good, true, and beautiful, is stronger when they have the experience of consciously, freely, and as-of-self rejecting evil, recoiling from it, holding it in aversion and fear. Cyberspace is a little heaven and hell. In our spiritual infancy on earth, we seem to be needing a mixed-atmosphere cyberspace. Like the spiritual world witnessed by Swedenborg, cyberspace is a picture of the human mind in training on earth, ambi-valent, bi-directional, containing within itself a growing angel and a growing devil, both serving humanity and the Divine's purpose for an endlessly growing heaven. The angel, serving willingly and lovingly; the devil serving rebelliously and hatefully.
See also Spiritual Gegoraphy Part 1