PSYCHOLOGY OF CYBERSPACE:
CYBERSPACE AS DREAM WORLD

by John Suler, Ph.D.

To Part II

Spontaneous Generation

You can't create something out of nothing.

Well, that principle doesn't hold true in the world of dreams. People and things appear out of nowhere. They change shape and size with little regard for the physical laws of conservation. And when they have served their purpose, they fizzle out and recede into nothing. This feature of spontaneous generation in dreams may be a derivative of how we generally experience the unconscious. Whenever the unconscious manifests itself - as in creative inspiration or psychotic (including drug-induced) experiences - its symbols and sensations just "pop up" from nowhere, as if springing from the head of Zeus. In fact, classic myths, being vehicles for expressing universal patterns of unconscious thought, are filled with examples of spontaneous generation.

Some virtual worlds are based on a token or monetary system. You have to earn or win these tokens in order to use them to create (buy) new objects, rooms, and avatars. It's a world that adheres to the rational laws of economics, materialism, and physics.

The Palace, on the other hand, allows spontaneous generation. New objects (props) can be created out of nothing. To your heart's content, you can duplicate a can of Pepsi, a bouquet of flowers, or Tom Cruise's face over and over again, filling the entire room, if you so wish. With paint brushes, you can draw whatever you like on the rooms. And with the simple incantation "clean" you can sweep all of it away and start anew. There is no cost, no price to pay, no bartering. It's even better than alchemic magic. Like the ability to transcend space and gravity, it creates a feeling of freedom and omnipotence.

Transcending Time

In the unconscious, time is irrelevant. A personal experience dozens of years old may remain as pristine and new as the day it happened. That moment remains frozen in time. In dreams, it may surface in derivative symbols and images that feel as real as real life. The dream may transpose and blend the past, the present, and expectations about the future. Time is not a linear march of static moments, but flexible stuff to be manipulated for the purpose of expressing psychological meaning.

In cyberspace, one's time frame can be suspended, blended with other people's time frames, and, sometimes, even negated.

Despite the fact that Palatians usually complain about lag, it is a fascinating suspension of time. The whole scene freezes before your very eyes. People mostly experience this as a frustrating restriction on their ability to talk and maneuver, not unlike the familiar paralysis nightmares where your legs become sluggish or stuck in mud despite your desperate efforts to run. But in these nightmares your mind may remain active - and in cyberspace lag your mind always remains active. As in a episode from the Twilight Zone, this suspension of the moment may prove to be a unique opportunity. It affords you precious seconds or minutes to decide what you will say or do next. In some situations, that temporal bonus may come in very handy. Don't you sometimes wish you could freeze time in real life?

How we think, feel, and behave is partly determined by the circadian rhythms of our daily routine. How a group thinks, feels, and behaves is determined by the collective summing of these individual states of consciousness. You and your peers, for example, are not exactly the same at 8:30 am when you arrive for work as you are at midnight working overtime. The group moods, attitudes, and topics of discussion shift. In cyberspace, people arrive from different time zones. People's "heads" may be in very different places in their circadian cycle. Cyberspace blends these various individual states of consciousness into a collective group-consciousness that transcends time.

Have you ever intended to go online for just 15 minutes or so, but end up being there for hours? People say, "I lost track of the time." They become totally absorbed in what they are doing. They become immersed in the moment - an "eternal" space that lies beyond time. This phenomenon is by no means unique to cyberspace. People become absorbed in all sorts of activities - especially creative ones. The common denominator for all these experiences is that people "lose themselves" in the activity. Individual identity yields to the timeless process of "being" - what some psychologists call "B-Cognition." As in dreams, the waking self-conscious ego (the ego locked into time) is forgotten while new dimensions of self express themselves un-self-consciously in the process of simply doing and being.

Loose Self Boundaries

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.

 

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