Virtual dreams

A few nights ago I had a 21st century dream in which the key event was losing my cell phone.  In days of yore – say five or ten years ago – losing a wallet was the common dream image for a disruption to one’s persona.  Now my smart phone probably tells me more about my public life than a wallet.  It shows me where I am, where I’m going, when I need to be there, how to find my way, and it gives me multiple ways to connect with people I need to see when I arrive.  In a few years time, I’m sure we’ll all have digital ID’s and credit cards.

Though I still think of dreams in terms of archaic elements, clearly the psyche will use whatever it needs to make a point.  As technology is part of our lives now, it is also part of our dreams.  All of which leads me to the heart of this post:  we ain’t seen nothin’ yet! 

Last Wednesday, I caught an amazing segment on virtual reality on the PBS Newshour.  I didn’t expect to be interested.  Since I don’t play video games or World of Warcraft, VR seems like just one more distraction in an ADHD world.  It may well be, but the Newshour piece demonstrates the power of this technology, beyond anything I’d imagined.  I instantly thought of the “Feelies” – multi-sensory movies in Huxley’s Brave New World.  We aren’t there yet, but it would be foolish to rule out the possibility.  Watch the clip and see what you think.

The power of imagined experience has long been established.  In the early 20th century, Jung developed a technique he called “active imagination” and used it in therapy.  In the 50’s, research proved that imagined practice was as useful as “real” practice for improving basketball free throws.  In reference to meditation, Lama Thubten Yeshe, a prominent 20th century Tibetan teacher, said, “What we have to learn is that the experiences we have through imagination and those we have through our senses are actually the same.”

All of these applications involve self-generated imagery, but if and when VR comes into our living rooms, it will come through the same corporate interests that flood us with adds already.  Do we want them reaching even farther into the deep psyche?

We’ll be clamoring for it!  If you have any doubt, check out Life, the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality by Neal Gabler.  In terms of an obvious metaphor, The Matrix, once we have the ability turn our living rooms into personal holodecks, that blue pill of restless sleep will surge in popularity.


To paint a huge subject in simple terms, over time, our race has transferred successive parts of our brain functions to technology.  Printed books marked the end of bards who could recite epic poems.  We don’t find the griots of Alex Haley’s Roots in literate cultures.  The imaginations of my parents’ generation got a better workout listening to The Lone Ranger on radio than mine did watching the masked man on TV.

I love technology, but I’m wary of it too, and not just the obvious stuff like the NSA.  I’m wary of all the ways we can use it to foster oblivion until, as T.S. Eliot put it, “Human voices wake us and we drown.”

9 thoughts on “Virtual dreams

  1. Truly mindblowing. So the era of holodecs is quite near, though the gear looks pretty heavy. That may surprise you but I am quite a techie and I welcome the learning opportunities the new technology may bring. There is no going back down the evolutionary ladder.


    • I’m not the least bit surprised that you’re a techie – most people on WordPress tend to be. The guy in the last segment of the PBS clip summed it up – that most technologies are neutral, and the question is, what will people make of them? Though that being said, I’m not looking forward to the day when the skies are full of Amazon delivery drones…


      • I read an article today in The New York Review of Books about the information that is being gathered on us all on a daily basis by marketing experts, statisticians and data analytics people. That is something quite scary to me – being stripped of my privacy.


      • There’s probably no way of getting off the grid these days. A driver’s license, a W-2, credit cards, bank account, auto registration, email account, and so on – any of these and we’re being tracked. As Charles Colbert mentioned recently, one visit to an online shoe store and we’ll be getting sidebar adds for loafers into the next century.

        A scary thing too, in light of the Target Credit card hack, is an article today pointing out that the US lags the rest of the developed world in that sort of data security for ordinary citizens.

        My comfort is that these days, my external life would appear so boring to most government and corporate entities that it’s like hiding in plain site. Think of Twitter – out of the millions of Tweets each day, how many are actually read by any significant number of people? Very few.

        Still, now that our government’s dirty laundry is out in the open, I hope we can keep up the pressure and not get distracted by next week’s crisis and let this go with little or no action.


  2. “All of these applications involve self-generated imagery, but if and when VR comes into our living rooms, it will come through the same corporate interests that flood us with adds already. Do we want them reaching even farther into the deep psyche?”

    I do agree with Monika and I love the technology that I do use, but agree with you Morgan that we should be wary and attentive to the impact and particularly the shadow side of all that crosses our path.

    In particular I do think that losing the ability to hear language metaphorically and to be touched by symbols, regardless of why that may be happening, will perpetuate the sense of divisiveness between individuals and cultures and the separation from nature that leads us to not sensing nature’s needs and also to the over consumption of limited resources.


    • I could easily write a long list of tech stuff I thoroughly enjoy, beginning with WordPress, encompassing all my gear, and including everything from Turbo Tax to GPS, which has got me un-lost in more than one strange city.

      More than anything else, I was thinking of seasonal adds when I wrote this passage. A week ago, I was cleaning the windows in the living room and turned on the 49’ers game. My back was turned so I wasn’t watching, just listening, and it became clear that at least half the time, if not more, was devoted to advertisements, and the especially inane adds that seem to dominate the media at this time of year. I couldn’t stand it for very long – after 10 min or so I turned on music instead. That’s the kind of crap I imagine driving extensions in popular media, and that is what I’m wary of introducing into ever more profound levels of awareness.


      • Well said Morgan! I absolutely agree with you. If I can’t DVR something and skip the ads, I don’t want that stuff cluttering my psychic landscape! 🙂


  3. Absolutely fascinating. Thanks for posting the film clip. I hadn’t seen it. There is so much to think about in this post. The future is here and I’m not at all sure I’m ready for it.


    • Interesting little synchronicity: the evening after I posted this, The Matrix played on AMC. Unfortunately, I missed the first hour, so now I will have to rent it and watch again (it’s been a while). I highly recommend it. Just like Bagger Vance expresses a profound spiritual metaphor through a medium you don’t ordinarily think of as spiritual, the Matrix does something similar in a completely different (and darker way). I’d suggest it as a must see film (two more were made to complete a trilogy, but they didn’t come close to the first, which is stand alone).


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