The Consensus of Cyberspace

In the real world the empty page might scare the writer. as the blank screen might intimidate the programmer, but now individuals found themselves in the position of having to "boot up" an entire universe of meaning, without any easy reference to the constellation of familiar objects that tend to reinforce the tentative definitions obf newly ereated artifacts. Say, for example, one wished to create a chair in cyberspace, circa 1985. The most that can be said is that this "chair" won't look very much like a chair, much less feel or taste like one. The "chair" is a sort of Platonic Ideal, a maintained construct, held in place by a consensual agreement that this set of pixels is a "chair," and everyone interacting in this simulation agrees, by force of collective will, to treat it as such. This is the textbook definition of the magical act, and its corollary states that every object in cyberspace is a magical object.

The generation of meaning is always a magical act, arbitrary in a particularly self-consistent way that seems to obey some biological drive to believe in the consistency of the world. This was the covert theme of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1993), which interwove a discursive exploration of the power of language to shape reality with "real" experiences in cyberspace—or, the "Metaversrse"—as dialectical, DNA strands describing the complementary halves of one genetic whole. One strand flows back into to prehistory, into the origins of consciousness in the advent of human language, while the other draws directly from the tense posthistoric relationship between the "synthetic" and "reality."

Science fiaion author Robert Anton Wilson has noted that "reality is defined by the place where rival gangs of shamans fought each other to a stand-off," implying a process that continues through to the present day (and simultaneously summarizing the plot of Snow Crash). While the creation of value may be mostly a magical act-—just ask the Marxists—-day-to-day life, before cyberspace, offered little opportunity for the creative use of the will to define the real. In True Names, Vinge uncovered something very old, a particular feature of human consciousness almost atrophied from disuse, yet still very much a part of us. If every item is not itself, cannot be dismissed as "just a rock" or "tree," but must be viewed as an exteriorization of one's own self, the entire world becomes a very explicit reflection of what we believe to be true. Cyberspace brought this forgotten knowledge into the foreground, making it impossible to ignore. If there a; are no atheists in foxholes, there are only animists in cyberspace.


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 True Names... and Other Dangers
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Vinge , Vernor (198711), True Names... and Other Dangers, Retrieved on 2017-12-12