PSYCHOLOGY OF CYBERSPACE:
CYBERSPACE AS DREAM WORLD
To Part I
Facets of Dreaming in Cyberspace
Psychology has mapped out many of the mental components of dreams and other altered states. Psychoanalytic theorists place them under the label of "primary process." Primary process is a style of thinking and experiencing that is quite different than normal waking states of consciousness (called "secondary process"). It defies conventional rules of time, space, and logic. It zooms in on subjective meaning and emotion rather than toeing the line of "objective" or "rational" truth. It's a primordial, magical type of thinking that usually remains unconscious, but can surface to fuel creativity, mysticism, and psychosis. Many of these facets of dream-like primary process can be found at the Palace.
In dreams, the conventional rules of space do not apply. The dreamer can rapidly shift from one scenario to another without having to travel any ground. The only sense of "distance" or "place" that has meaning is PSYCHOLOGICAL distance and place. Also, the restrictions of gravity and everyday physics may disappear. One can float, bounce, fly in patterns that would make Newton's eyes cross.
So too in cyberspace the user can transcend the laws of space and physics. One simply has to click on a button to be transported from one location to another. There is no swinging of feet or turning of wheels to confirm that one has moved. It is a change in the visual/psychological context that indicates transportation. In imaginary virtual worlds. a "goto" command magically shuttles the person from one room or location to another. At the Palace, one also can move from place to place by simply clicking on a doorway, a window or a picture on the wall. You immediately transcend visual space, even "pass through walls" and... POOF! You are there, materializing in the room of your choice, as if you just enjoyed the convenience of an Enterprise transporter. The fact that one can click on objects in rooms to trigger this transportation also lends a symbolic magical power to the object, just as objects in dreams wield symbolic power. They are portals to a new place with new meanings. Whenever I click on the rectangular stone monument standing at the center of the "Slabs," I think of the mystical Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Unlike text-only virtual worlds, the highly visual Palace adds the opportunity to violate gravity and physics. Your avatar can float in mid-air, teeter impossibly on the edge of someone's shoulder, hang upside down from the ceiling. Jim Bumgardner, the creator of Palace, wove such gravity-defying features into Palace for both technical and psychological reasons.Simulating real world physics required more programming and system horsepower. Users also disliked the restrictions. "Early attempts by myself to create real world constraints," Bumgardner stated, "such as limiting a person's movement to the floor area of the room, were quickly removed, because they were perceived by myself and the other users as unnecessary obstacles... There is no attempt to mimic real world physics in the Palace. As far as I am concerned, physics basically present obstacles, and I wanted to create a world with few obstacles."
As in dreams, the Palace's suspension of the laws of physics and space satisfies conscious and unconscious fantasies of magic, omnipotence, and defiance. But at times members also take great pleasure in conforming to these laws. With "positional avatars" users do such things as sit themselves into chairs and bathe in the spa pool. They enjoy the option to play with the loose virtual boundary between physical law and improbable movement. It's a marvelous balancing act between the real/mundane and the surreal/magical. Like Merlin, they have the power to use or bend, at will, the laws of nature.
John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology
at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published
on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains
several web sites.